Category: Determination in the Nation

The Right Way to Practice

By Daniella Wittern Bush

I arrive early, as always, giving myself time to roll out my mat, adjust the lighting and the sound system, and open the cabinet of yoga props. Sometimes one or two mats have been strategically placed before I get there; most often there is a slow drift as the class enters the room little by little.

 

Light chatter fills these early moments: a casual conversation with the regulars about the weather, shoulders, and hips, kids young or old, or about books and shows. When new faces appear, I walk over with a set of blocks and a strap to introduce myself, asking their names and inquiring about any salient elements of their movement history and experience with yoga I should know about before class begins.

 

Then I tell the new student about the way I teach: I offer hands-on assists in class. Offer to be the key word, because I know that some people love to be touched, and some people don’t, for all kinds of very good reasons! So along with the blocks and strap, I give each person a little glass stone. If you place the stone on your mat, I know that you welcome hands-on assists; if I don’t see the stone on your mat, I will be happy to support your practice in other ways but will be sure not to touch you.

Worcester Fitness Yoga Instructor

Daniella Wittern Bush - Yoga Instructor

Please Correct Me

The responses I get when people hear about the permission stones is so telling about the state of yoga as it is currently practiced in the US. Almost always I hear a variation of, “Please, correct me! I know I make mistakes all of the time. I can use all of the help I can get!”

(Where in that introduction statement do I ever say anything about corrections? Right, I don’t.)

These comments reflect the widespread and deep-set belief that there is only one right way to practice each pose, and that our bodies can and or should be pulled into that correct shape when they don’t get their on their own. That any other shape we may find ourselves in must be wrong, must require “correction.” And that the teacher is the expert on what your body should be doing, even if this is the first time he/she has ever met you.

 

So this may be surprising to hear, but I don’t offer hands-on touch for the purpose of pulling anyone deeper into a pose or to “fix” their alignment.

Note- This is so widespread and such a problematic misconception that I will be dedicating a whole blog post to it soon! But for now, suffice it to say this: the teacher may be the expert on whatever form of movement practice you are participating in, but you will always be the expert on your own body. Ideally, you and the teacher combine your expertise one-on-one to figure out how to move (the teacher’s expertise) your body (your expertise) best within the movement practice itself, according to a set of predetermined goals. Barring that, in a group class setting, you are still the expert on your body, and should always feel free to combine what the teacher offers with your own knowledge of what will work or be good for your body.

Let me say that again: I do not use touch to force bodies deeper into a pose or to pull them into a “correct” shape.

 

I primarily use touch to foster connection, relaxation, and proprioceptive awareness. (Propioception is your awareness of exactly where your body is in space at any given moment.) So, for example, if we are standing in a bone-stacked version of Tadasana, Mountain Pose, (note that I call this one version of mountain pose! Rather than the only version or the correct version), and your hips are lining up over your toes rather than over your ankles, I might use touch to guide your hips backwards until they are stacked over ankles. Or I might use touch when you are in child’s pose to help you develop awareness of your breath expanding throughout the full thoracic cavity so that the space between each of your vertebra can increase with your inhales, and decrease with your exhales.

 

What I’m not doing, though, is using touch to bring you into “the right alignment” or “the correct shape.’

Inhabiting the Pose

Why not?

 

Because, my friends, there is no such thing as the one correct alignment for any given yoga pose.

 

Most of what gets taught as “correct alignment” in yoga classes are really about aesthetic appeal. About using the body to create shapes that are symmetrical, or that consist only of right angles, or that impress through pretzeling and strength demonstrated with clean lines.

 

The book in teacher training often touted as the Bible for cueing asana, Light on Yoga, was written by a man whose entire career was based on performance. That is to say, based on his ability to make shapes with his body that were pleasing to the gaze of others (or to that of the camera).

 

B.K.S. Iyengar also brought the use of props into the practice of yoga, making many poses much more accessible to many different bodies. But the classic alignment cues for Trikonasana, Triangle Pose, for example, are not about finding a Triangle that works well for your body today. They are about using your body to create a specific shape. About being able to recreate that exact same shape out of every body. Regardless of whether or not that specific shape is going to be good for your real body, today.

 

Here is the secret, my friends, that I wish every yoga teacher and every yoga practitioner knew: Every pose can be inhabited in an almost unlimited number of ways, according to three main factors: 1. The one specific body embodying the pose, 2. The intention of this particular yoga practice, and 3. The intention of the pose itself.

This Specific Body

No two bodies in a room practicing yoga are ever alike—not even if there are identical twins in the room. What our bodies need from, are capable of, or are limited by in any given pose is determined by a complex and extensive set of factors, of which genetic makeup is only one part. Our lifelong health and injury histories play a huge role in what our bodies need, can do, and should do. So do our occupations, our hobbies, our commutes—all of the factors that determine our patterns of repetitive movement or holding of tension. Our fears and our motivations come into play here, as do our recent levels and quality of sleep, eating, exercise, and stress. Who else is in the room and how comfortable we feel with them. And the list goes on, a whole slew of bio-psycho-social factors that determine how our bodies show up on any given day.

 

And we change! What I am capable of and limited by and will benefit from is not the same today as it was last week as it will be in a month. So how I practice a pose today should not necessarily be the same as I practiced it yesterday or a month ago or last year. Even within a single day, or within a single yoga session, how I practice a pose can and should change, based on how warmed up or cold, tired or energized my body is.

 

In other words: The intensity and challenge levels of each pose are determined not by the pose itself, but by every other pose—every other move!—that came before it. And not just on the yoga mat. How spinal extension feels—and what your body needs from spinal extension—differs based on the positions in which you slept the night before, how you have been holding tension, what postures you have spent most of your day in before arriving on the yoga mat

This Specific Yoga Practice

At the start of every class I teach, I offer an opportunity to set an intention for your yoga practice. Often, people’s intention in practice falls along the lines of peace, relaxation, or stress release. Sometimes it could be strength. Patience. Joy. There is no wrong intention for the practice—it is whatever you would like to get out of your time on the mat, today.

 

But if your intention in your practice is peace or relaxation, how you approach, for example, a Vrkasana, Tree Pose, should be different than if your intention is strength.

 

For one intention, you might choose to keep your hands wherever you feel most stable on your body, set your gaze on a fixed point, and let the sole of your lifted foot come down whenever you notice yourself holding your breath or working too hard. For the other, you might take your arms up to the sky, or let them and your torso sway around like the branches of a tree in a breeze; you might choose to challenge your propioception and balance by closing your eyes, or by shifting your gaze from point to point around the room.

 

There are no enlightenment points for choosing what might appear to be the “deepest” or “most advanced” (i.e., most aesthetically appealing or impressive) variation of the pose. Nor is there any one single option that is the best or “most correct” for all bodies at all times. There are only the options that make the most sense for your body and your intention for practicing today.

The Intention Behind the Pose

I want to let you in on one of yoga’s most well-kept secrets: every pose can be worked—and worked differently!—to achieve a wide variety of physical intentions.

 

Let’s take Uttanasana, a standing forward fold, as an example. Most often people assume that forward folds are about lengthening through the hamstrings. And it’s true: you can keep your legs straight as you fold forward, reaching your tailbone towards the sky, and you will find length through the hamstrings.

 

Even here, however, intention matters. You can lengthen through the hamstrings as a passive stretch, letting the weight of gravity do the work for you. And that might be the perfect thing to do, especially if the pose is serving as a rest or reset between sequences! But you can also choose to work eccentric strength through the hamstrings as they lengthen (and hamstring strength is something that everyone who spends too much time sitting needs to work on!). Hinge from the hips s-l-o-w-l-y, send the hips slightly backwards as you lower down, resisting the effect of gravity the whole way. This is an entirely different experience of the pose, based on a very different intention for using it.

 

These are just two options based on working hamstring length in different ways. Neither one is the correct way to practice. They simply serve different purposes.

 

And there are so many other things you could choose to use a forward fold to work! You might be most interested in isolating pelvic movement from flexion of the lumbar spine. Or in working on strength in spinal flexion against gravity. Your intention could focus on finding axial extension through the spine with gravity creating traction of the vertebra. Or to change the patterns of lymph movement and blood circulation.

 

And while it should, by now, be clear that your intention can be to work or rest in a forward fold, it could also be simply to use the forward fold as a transition, flowing from standing to seated or standing to step back into a lunge or standing to prone.

 

You could have an entire class or workshop sequenced simply around forward folds (not that I necessarily recommend this!), exploring as many different ways to inhabit the pose and opportunities for work or rest as you can imagine. None of them would be wrong—although you might find some that are wrong for your body today, or that are wrong for your personal intention for this practice session, or that are wrong for the stated reason for being in the pose. None of them would be more correct.

Your Practice, Your Pose

Your Practice, Your Pose

As a practitioner taking a class, you don’t always need to know what the intention behind the pose is. But the teacher leading the class should know and be able to articulate why he or she has chosen each pose, what it is that he or she would like you all to get out of it, and how it fits

Note- As in, for example, when someone cues to fold forward with knees deeply bent, but suggests that you are lengthening your hamstrings. There is nothing wrong with bending your knees in a forward fold—that permits a whole new array of possibilities within the pose! But it does not permit the lengthening of the hamstrings.

 

together with all of the poses that came before it and that will come after it. That knowledge, that why for each pose, should determine the way the pose is cued. And the way it is experienced.

 

Even so, you, the practitioner, are always in charge of your own body, your own experience. If I am teaching a class centered on hamstring and gluteal strength today, but yesterday you moved and did a lot of squatting while lifting heavy objects, or you skied all day, or you are feeling run-down and your intention is to relax rather than work hard, you can choose to inhabit the poses differently! You can choose what to work on, and what to let go.

 

Likewise, when teaching I will sometimes bring a class into or towards a pose, and then offer a whole series of options, each one working something different. I do this not because I want you to try each one of them as I offer them, but because I know that we all come to our mats from different places, in different bodies, and with different needs. Most often the whole class wants to come with me, from the first option all the way to the last one, but no single option is the correct or best one. They are simply different destinations.

 

Your yoga practice is a journey, not a test. You choose where you are going, and what path you are taking to get there. I am just the tour guide, delighted to point out some of the sights you can explore along the way.

By Christopher Jones, LMT, Worcester Fitness

I was standing on the top of Cannon Mountain in Franconia Notch State Park this past weekend. It was a sunny and clear afternoon with a reported visibility of about 75 miles. No matter how far the visibility actually was, it was a beautiful view. It was, however, also about 28 degrees and there was a coating of that all too familiar winter malady – snow.

Whether we want to admit it or not, winter is fast approaching. This means that soon the snow will begin to fall and we will all break out the shovels. As with any other seasonal activity, many of us will start scooping and throwing snow without giving much thought to the safety and health of our bodies. People often joke about “weekend warriors” and the injuries that they accumulate for their sporadic physical activity, but this is just as likely for seasonal activities like spring gardening, fall leaf raking, and winter shoveling.

In 2011, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine released the results of a 17-year study detailing the most common health hazards associated with shoveling snow. Some of the results showed that:

• The most common reasons for getting hurt were overworking your muscles, falling, and being hit with the shovel.

• The top injuries were to the soft tissue of the body - muscles, ligaments, and tendon

• The low back was one of the most common areas to be injured.

• In addition to various cuts and scrapes, the arms and hands were the most common areas for bone fractures.

• Although only 7% of snow shoveling injuries were heart-related, all deaths due to snow shoveling were caused by heart problems. Individuals over the age of 55 were 4.25 times more likely to have heart-related symptoms while shoveling.

Those findings are sufficient to encourage all of us to think about our health and safety when it comes to shoveling snow. If you are healthy enough to head out and tackle the snow, consider these guidelines from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons:

• Warm up with some light exercise first.
• Wear slip-resistant footwear.
• Shovel at a sustainable pace and take frequent breaks.
• Instead of lifting the snow, try to push the snow out of the way.
• Avoid throwing the snow over your shoulder or to the side to avoid twisting.

To those guidelines, I would also suggest staying hydrated while shoveling, wearing adequate clothing for the weather, and making sure your shovel is of the proper size and in good repair. Also, if you have a heart condition, an injury, or aren’t someone who regularly engages in exercise, this may be the time to get to know that family down the street who has teenagers in need of some extra cash. There is no shame in preventing an injury.

A lot of fun can be had in the snow. Shoveling can also be an extra bit of physical activity to add to your winter activity plans. If you question your readiness for show shoveling, consult with one of our trainers for an evaluation and a plan to get you ready. Perhaps even try an Advanced Therapeutic Stretching (ATS) session to really prime your body for action! If, however, it is already too late and shoveling has gotten the best of you, our massage therapists are available to aid you in pain relief and rehabilitation.

Winter is a wonderful season, and no one needs to spend it hurt over a bit of snow. So let’s be smart about it, let’s be safe, and let’s get outside!

2nd Annual Knockout 90 for Breast Cancer 

In March of 2017, Meg Paradis was diagnosed with breast cancer.   KO 90 is an event to give back to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, to the place that is helping Meg, and so many more.

Wednesday, October 3 6-8pm

• Three consecutive 30-minute classes, spin, strength, and camp.
(Participants change rooms at the 30-minute mark.)

• Raffles, food, etc to follow after the 90-minute workout

• Sign-ups begin Tuesday 9/4. $30 registration fee

• T-shirt, hat, water bottle included

• 66 spots, open to members and non-members.

• All proceeds will go to Yawkey 9 at Dana Farber for Breast Cancer research.

Sign up at the Front Desk at Worcester Fitness!

Questions? email andy@worcesterfitness.com

We can help you determine if you might be overtraining

You can’t flip open a magazine or turn on the television without seeing or hearing someone going on and on about the multitude of benefits from getting regular exercise. No doubt each of those messages will be accompanied by recommendations of what to do, how long to do it for, and what results you might see as a result. And so we piece these recommendations together and suddenly find ourselves working out hard every day, sometimes multiple workouts in the same day. But is that much exercise a good thing?

 

In short, it depends. Many athletes engage in multiple workouts every day. For the non-athlete, however, doing that much without the proper coaching can do more harm than good. The term we use to describe exercising too much is “overtraining”. It is likely that almost every athlete and most health-conscious exercisers have experienced this to some degree, even without realizing it. If ignored, overtraining can set you back and even lead to injury.

 

We recognize overtraining by noting certain symptoms that tend to cluster together. For example, lack of energy, being easily fatigued, and feeling irritable are strong indicators of overtraining. Other reliable gauges are a lack of motivation to exercise, frequent sickness, prolonged muscle soreness, and lack of progress. These symptoms, especially when experienced together, make a convincing argument that you are overtraining.

 

There are an array of remedies for overtraining, and most are quite simple and economical. Rest, taking a few days off for an extended recovery period, is often the most effective intervention. Take the time to analyze your nutrition and hydration to make sure it is sufficient for the activities you are engaging in. Meet with a certified personal trainer to examine your exercise program so that it can be made more efficient and specifically tailored to your goals. Have session with a licensed massage therapist to help with muscle soreness and fatigue. Try a Pilates, yoga, or a spin class if these are not in your usual routine.

 

If after reading this article you are questioning whether you might be overtraining, please consult any member of the staff here at Worcester Fitness. We can help you determine if you might be overtraining and can recommend an appropriate intervention to get you back on track. As they say in medicine, “the dose makes the poison.” This is as true of exercise as it is with everything else. Be vigilant, work hard, play hard, and never be afraid to reach out and ask a professional for advice.

Charlie LeBlanc

By Andy Sharry and Meg Paradis
Worcester Fitness
 
Charles “Charlie” LeBlanc is a long time, valued member of the Worcester Fitness family dating back to 2000. His smiling face is a staple in our evening indoor cycling classes. He rides hard, but does so with good nature, high spirit and positive vibe. When not in the spin room, Charlie, 59, works diligently in the weight room to maintain his broad shoulders, barrel chest and overall imposing stature. “Charlie is an extremely deep caring, gentle giant’, says Worcester FItness Spin Instructor Meg Paradise.
 
“There is a song that I play as a cool down after spin class called "Humble and Kind". Whenever it plays, he lights up and says to everyone "This song is what it is all about."

Spending time around Charlie, you would never guess that his life story includes a very serious accident that nearly ended his life. As you’ll read, this tragic accident never stole away his faith that he would once again return to health and strength.
 
In July of 2002, Charlie and his friend went on a 14 mile bike ride in the late afternoon hours. Before leaving, he spoke with his wife, and left a message on his mother’s answering machine expressing his love for both. “One thing that this experience has taught me is to never leave anything unsaid. I love you could have been my last words my wife and mother heard from me.”

 
Charlie was travelling 40 mph as he rounded a bend in the road coming from a shaded area to bright sunlight area. There he saw a Dodge Ram pickup stopped in the left lane coming up the hill with its left directional on. Unfortunately, he never saw Charlie and accelerated into the turn. Charlie considered going around the back of the truck but there was traffic coming down the hill and didn’t want to get hit broadside, so he tried to make the turn with the truck. He collided with the truck just at the front fender. “My head hit the windshield and shoulders and upper chest took most of the impact.”, said Charlie. To this day, he really doesn’t remember much of the accident just yelling “NO” immediately before the collision occurred.
 
Moments later Charlie was discovered lying face up on top of his bike, covered in blood. The EMT found that his carotid artery on the left side of his neck was cut. Thankfully, the quick thinking EMT placed his fingers into his neck and straightened the artery, packed the wound and placed him in the ambulance
 
In the accident, Charlie cracked the windshield with his head, bent the windshield strut, took off the outside mirror, blew in the passenger window and crushed in the passenger door. Local police commented that the damage to the large pickup truck was very similar to the damage done when a car strikes a moose. Charlie credits his diligent work in the weight room at Worcester Fitness for saving his life, “This is where the strength training played an important role in my survival. At the time of the accident I was 6’ and weighed 230 lbs with about 12% body fat and I’m certain that my size and strength helped absorb the impact”
 
Charlie had broken the odontoid bone in his neck, fractured his jaw in three places, broke his right collarbone, separated his left shoulder, broke all ribs, collapsed both lungs, bruised his heart and cerebellum, and had a stroke to his brain stem. The doctors gave him a less than a 50% chance for survival and he received last rites several times over the next few days and flatlined a few times that first week.
 

Within a few weeks, Charlie was moved to Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and was in a coma for more than a month. He and his family were informed that he would most likely be a quadriplegic and might have permanent brain damage. His robust weight went from 230lbs down to 180lbs, but Charlie was rapidly showing vast improvements in his motor skills. He amazed his family and doctors with how quickly he healed and improved. 6 weeks after the accident, he was transported to Fairlawn Rehabilitation in Worcester, MA where he learned how to walk again. In typical Charlie fashion, by the end of the first week he had discarded his walker for a cane and was mobile again. Finally, he was able to eat solid food, and gained back some of the weight that he had lost. Charlie used his time in the rehab hospital to do some deep thinking, “I could sit there and pity myself or thank God for letting me live. I prayed and told God that if this were how I would have to live my life I’d make the best of it.”
 
Eight months following the accident, Charlie’s returned to his pre-accident weight of 230 pounds, was riding the stationary bike and elliptical machine for 1 hour. The nerves in his leg were showing signs of regeneration and he was totally off all medications. Within no time, Charlie was back outside on his bike, riding for fun and for charity in races like the Great Mass Getaway for Multiple Sclerosis . Once again, he was riding 30, 50, 75 mile rides. “I can attribute my amazing recovery to the incredible people and spin classes at Worcester Fitness. I was fit before my accident, and I know that my high level of fitness helped me recover fully and quickly.”

When Charlie looks back over all that has happened in the 15 years since the accident, he says that all his experiences and relationships with friends and family have all been affected positively. “Several people have told me that this must have been the worst year of my life, and my answer to them is "It was the best year of my life". "I'm Still Here! Miracles Do Happen!” When asked about Charlie, Worcester Fitness Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Instructor Denleigh Grniet said, “ Charlie teaches us how important it is to ask if what is bothering us now really makes a difference. If it won’t matter in 5 months, we should just let it go, focusing on staying positive and gracious.”
 
We at Worcester Fitness are thrilled to have played a role in Charlie’s recovery and return to strength. We love having him as part of our family and are inspired by his strength and resiliency he’s shown for the years since his accident. According to Meg, “Charlie is an amazing guy. It's an honor to know him, and hear his incredible story of strength and survival.”