Monthly Archives: June 2012

A Better Forward Bend

One of Viniyoga’s key differentiators is our principle of adaptation, or modifying a pose’s form to achieve its function. Because of this principle, we often do poses in a Viniyoga classes significantly differently than in other styles.  This is especially apparent in forward bends. (Actually, lateral bends as well, but that’s a blog topic for another day).

In Viniyoga, we categorize postures based on their primary and secondary intentions.  The primary intention is the “have to have,” if you will, or the most important effect of a posture.  The secondary intentions of a pose are the “nice to haves.”  Those effects that, while useful, can be sacrificed if needed to achieve the primary goal of the pose.

In forward bends, the primary intention is usually stretching the low back.  Secondarily, the pose may also stretch hips, hamstrings and the upper back.  If you feel a forward bend in your hamstrings or upper back but not your low back, then you are likely getting the secondary intention of the pose at the expense of the primary intention.

The photos below are of a student doing a specific forward bend, called Uttanasana. In the photo on the left, she is stretching her hamstrings, but not her low back. The photo on the right shows the same student with improved form.  Note how a slight bend in her knees has changed the pose significantly.

Of course you can’t see your own form when you’re practicing, but you can still tell whether you are doing the pose “right” by how it feels.  If you’re doing Uttanasana correctly, you will feel a stretch in your low back and perhaps a small stretch in the backs of your legs.

Coming out of the forward bend should feel a bit different, and this is where things get tricky.   While it is vitally important to stretch the low back, you should do so while keeping the rest of the spine, particularly the inter-vertebral discs, resilient and safe. Therefore you should not keep a rounded position as you come back up to standing. Doing so puts pressure on the front of the discs, which may lead to disc wear and even disc herniation over time.  Instead, contract the low back muscles and come to a neutral or even slightly arched back at the half-way point.  From there, press through the feet and return to standing. Many teachers call this “lifting through a flat back.”   I often describe this movement as “lifting from your collar bones.”

In the photos below, the student on the left is rounding through her back as she comes to standing.  On the right, she is using correct form. Note the return of the subtle arch of her lumbar curve.

Again, you’ll know if you’re doing the movement “right” by how it feels. When you come to standing, you should feel your shoulder blades move together, your collar bones lift, and a slight curve return to your lower back.

Still not sure if you’re doing it correctly? Ask your teacher to watch you closely and give individual feedback.  Sometimes a even minute change in form can have a dramatic impact.



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle! And if you have back pain, we offer specific yoga for healthy backs classes to help!

Teaching Yoga to Kids

This week’s blog entry was written by guest author Liziah Woodruff. Liziah is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s teacher training program. She  can be contacted at

The Teacher said: “Put your hands on your belly and think of a color for your balloon. Breathe in and blow up your balloon; breathe out and deflate your balloon slowly. Breathe in, blow up your balloon–uh oh it pops!” Little mouths with big laughter fill the room. Welcome to the dynamic, creative, challenging, sweet, fun world of Kids Yoga! When I first started studying to be a yoga teacher eight years ago, I knew that translating the magic of yoga to kids was something I wanted to do.

I have been working with kids for most of my life. They follow me everywhere, so I have no choice. I have been a nanny, babysitter, school teacher, god mother and mentor.  Adding teaching  yoga to my work with children was not too cold, not too hot–it was just right! However it has taken me years of trial and error, study, creative exploration and many, many, many groups of kids to learn how to teach them confidently.  And of course I am still learning.

Children’s natural dramatic energy is activated in yoga as the kids and I climb together up mountains, become strong warriors, turn into fierce lions, wise owls, and soaring eagles. Yoga poses named after nature and animals–things kids love–lend themselves to easily connect to kids. There are endless stories and adventures that can be told with yoga poses. I like to make up my own adventures, which always change a little or a lot depending on the group.

I blend my classes with movement, music, story, active and calm poses, and resting at the end of the class. It is very common that the kid who didn’t seem like he would ever want to be still says during the closing circle: “I like resting the best.” Or a shy child that wouldn’t even say her name in the beginning circle becomes the most vivacious volcano of them all. Teaching yoga to kids is a skill.  It requires finding the right combination of active and quiet yoga, balancing the shy and expressive personalities, keeping the kids engaged, flowing and in control, and knowing what works for each age group.  And believe me some things work and some things don’t. I used to fear three and four year olds, but now I have learned how to teach even them!

Yoga teaches kids how to feel good in their bodies, how to challenge themselves to get stronger, more flexible and hold that tree pose for as long as they individually can. It teaches kids that focus and peace is possible to find within themselves. It inspires them to feel power within, not power over. It shows them that, like the roots of trees in a forest,  we are all connected.

I believe the ancient teachings of yoga are modern medicine for our children as well as us.  I am excited to have the opportunity to teach  what I have learned so far about  teaching yoga to kids in the Yoga Teacher Training for Kids Workshop at Whole Life Yoga on July 1st. I hope you will join me there and  in a family or kids yoga class soon.  Let’s give the gift of yoga to our kids! Let’s thrive and improve our whole selves together.

The light in me sees the light in you. Namaste.


If you would like to see me teaching, check out my kids yoga video, The Changing Star.

Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!

More Research on the Benefits of Viniyoga–Viniyoga Reduces Workplace Stress!

I know from personal experience that Viniyoga is an amazing tool for reducing workplace stress—that’s what hooked me on it almost fifteen years ago, when I still worked at Microsoft.  But now, research proves it!

Aetna, inc. recently studied methods of stress reduction in the workplace. The results were published in the online version of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The study evaluated the effectiveness of Mindfulness Meditation (a specific type of meditation) and Viniyoga on both perceived levels of stress and biological markers of stress. The Viniyoga intervention used in the study was designed by my teacher, Gary Kraftsow. The study participants included 239 Aetna employees located in California and Connecticut who were split into three groups:  the Mindfulness Meditation group, the Viniyoga group, and a control.

The results were encouraging.  Both the Mindfulness Meditation and the Viniyoga interventions saw over a 30% reduction in perceived stress levels. Participants also showed significant improvements in several heart rate measurements, suggesting that their bodies were better able to manage stress.  Even better, both Viniyoga and Mindfulness Meditation worked in about half the time as other commonly used mind-body interventions.

The Viniyoga intervention included a twelve-week yoga program that used physical yoga postures, breathing techniques, and guided relaxation. Participants met in class once a week and received practice handouts to use at home and in the office. Which just goes to prove what I’ve said all along—a well-conceived home practice gets results!

For more details on the study, check out the article on Aetna’s web site.

Be well, and come see me in class soon to reduce your stress!



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, and check out our Series on Yoga to Ease Stress!

Yoga and Meditation: A Port in the Storm

Last Wednesday was a very tough day in Seattle, and I spent most of the day completely oblivious to it.  As many of you know, several people were killed in a local coffee shop that morning by a mentally ill gunman.  There’s no discounting the tragedy for the victims, the families and friends – even the shooter himself.

But I spent the day working in a different realm: finishing the fourth draft of my novel, which is, ironically, a yoga murder mystery.  I sent the manuscript to my editor just 30 minutes before arriving at the studio to teach.  To say I was in a good mood would have been an understatement.  I sang, danced, and “high fived” myself all the way down Greenwood Ave, ecstatic at having reached this personally huge milestone.

Then I walked into the studio.

The first person I encountered told me about the shootings and the frantic calls she’d received from family and friends.  I responded with something eloquent like “Huh? Did something happen today?”  Soon after, another student told me that her son’s school had spent the day in lock down.  Later, another friend told me how the manhunt had almost expanded to Greenwood – all while I’d been blissfully unaware, creating my own version of mayhem in a wonderfully fictional world.

I have to admit to feeling a little separated from this, even though I myself was the victim of random violence many years ago.  I suspect that’s because I heard about it so much later than everyone else.  Part of me felt guilty for not being as upset as those around me – and part of me didn’t. You see, the yoga teachings never promised us an easy life.  They never promised freedom from suffering.  In fact, they literally say that suffering is inevitable.

What they do promise, however, is a path to peace in spite of it.  They offer us a port in the storm.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t control what happens in this great lottery we call life.  But we can hopefully learn how to be more balanced and peaceful in spite of it.

If you’ve met me, you know that I’m far from perfect.  I stress and angst and worry with the best of them.  But yoga and meditation help.  All we have to do is practice.

I taught the meditation below in my class that night.   May it help you find your own safe harbor in the storms of life.

A Simple Meditation for Inner Peace:

  1. Sit or lie comfortably, with your spine in a neutral position.
  2. Allow your eyes to close and notice your breath – without intentionally trying to change it.  Bring your attention to the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils.
  3. When you are ready, think of a word that represents inner peace or equanimity to you.  It could be balance, peace, calm, silence, or any other word that has meaning to you.
  4. Each time you exhale, mentally recite that word, and feel inner peace pour through your body, as if it were washing through every cell.  When your attention wanders, just notice it, and invite your attention back to the breath at the tip of your nose.  Then return to reciting your word or phrase with every exhale.
  5. Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.



Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!