Noah Maze Therapeutics Intensive

I had the good fortune of attending a weekend long therapeutics and asana intensive with Noah Maze and all the lovely yogis at Kula Annex this summer. It was INTENSE! AMAZING! INSPIRING!  Noah is funny, down to earth and oh so wise in the ways of yoga.  I learned so much and am so excited to integrate this into my practice and teaching.

Noah has grown up with yoga his entire life and spent his early years in Sidha Yoga Ashrams in India and the U.S. He has studied Ashtanga Vinyasa, Outdoor Education in college, and became a certified Anusarea Yoga Teacher in 2002.  Noah currently lives in LA and has co-founded the Shravana School of Yoga which offers educational programs that connect people to the healing power of the Heart's Light through traditional spiritual teachings, disciplined yogic practices and the transformational power of community (LOVE IT!).  So all in all, Noah is pretty awesome.  Click here to read a detailed description of my experience at this workshop!

The Asana Intensive:

Intensive? Uh yeah?!!!!  Wow.  I could feel my muscles all week following this!!!  What I loved about it?  Noah weaved the stories of the Mahabharata (ancient Hindu tales) throughout the practices...the stories were amazing -love, blood, hair (yes hair...), sex, heroes, heroines...the story was so interesting and the way Noah related the views of masculine "coding" and feminine from the texts to the asanas was fabulous. Here's a brief overview of the concepts:

Masculine Coding: Boys become men in 2 stages -first they are boys, and then some external event happens to transform them into men (i.e., a fight, contest, etc.) He explains that the men require external sources of information to guide them and related this to the practice by saying we need to use external images such as our reflection, an image on a poster of what a pose (asana) should look like to guide us in our formation of the pose correctly.  There is a differing of opinions on the use of mirrors in yoga...Those arguing against mirrors suggest that looking in the mirror could cause a person to injure themselves as they push themselves farther in a pose to achieve what the form should look like rather than honouring the limits of their body.  Another negative is that people are looking at their external form rather than going inward and that this perpetuates the ego and worrying about looking good rather than letting go and doing what feels right.  Noah discusses this and explains rather humorously that we need a balance as with all things and makes some joke forms of poses to demonstrate... pretty funny.  Proponents of mirrors suggest that they are useful for helping us to improve our form in poses..just as the teacher can help the student to align in a pose, the mirrors also can help.  The reality is that what feels right in our body might not necessarily be the optimal alignment.  Noah discussed his scoliosis and showed that for himself having one shoulder lower than the other actually feels "right" and how he adjusts his alignment by lengthening the side body more on that lower side and other adjustments to gain that optimal alignment.  It was excellent.

Feminine Coding: By day 3 of the intensive, we were all hoping for some good feminine nurturing restorative poses but alas Noah shared the heroine Draupadi and may i say she is one TOUGH lady!!! 'Women enough for 5 husbands" ..a great tale if you ever have the time or desire to read it. 

In these ancient texts, the female transforms from girl to woman in three stages which are all tied to the blood (menstruation).  The stages are:  1. Before the blood, 2. During the blood, 3. After the blood (Menopause). He explains that women are guided from the inside out as opposed to men who require the external cues.  In relation to yoga, Noah explains this is the inner knowing, the intelligence of what is needed for a pose -what actions are needed to express the asana. Noah also distinguishes between the heroine and the goddess.  The heroine such as Draupadi engages in conflict whereas the goddess transcends it. In Noah's words, "Conflict is a part of life. We engage in a world of complexity -tragedy happens, loss happens, etc. Draupadi sought justice and vengeance. Her story examines not how we transcend conflict but how we engage in it?"  I relate this to life on and off the mat...what do we do when we are faced with conflict, challenge?  Do we hide, run away, shrink or can we face the challenge, find our inner power, persevere and expand?

Wisdom: Here are a few of my favourite ideas that I took away from this weekend of asanas:

  • Matrika Shakti Words have power. Once they are spoken, they can't be taken back. The idea that thoughts become words and to be cautious of both the inner dialogue and spoken words we utter and their potential impact.
  • Power of Asanas to Energize or Ground You Forward Fold (Uttanasana) grounds you whereas a focus on backbends energizes.  The power of asana to calm or energize the body.
  • Balance Bring awareness to the balance of the outward and inward sources of intelligence in your asana -Being conscious of what the form of the pose looks like (using external cues such as the teacher, an image or photograph, or your own reflection to guide you) balanced with the feeling that comes from within (respecting your limits, knowing the difference between pain and discomfort from effort and growth, making adjustments to alignment based on inner cues).
  • Take it Further For me personally, I was amazed at how much further I was able to take my poses -As with anything in life we can become stagnant, accepting of where we are.  Question if going further, expanding, growing is possible rather than becoming complacent with where you are.  It is again a balance, being accepting of where you are but also questioning what is holding you back from going further?  I had no idea I was capable of placing my hands flat on the floor in a forward fold?!  I had never questioned it and therefore never tried.  My usual forward bend onto fingertips was providing a great stretch and so I remained there but I was not expanding my practice staying in that same place.  Play with your practice, ask questions and test your  limits -all within the limits of your body of course.  Remember the goal is never to PUSH, but rather to EXPAND and GROW.

Therapeutics Workshops:

I was delighted to have the opportunity to learn from Noah.  Therapeutics is my THANG.  I'm fascinated by the human body and anatomy.  I am amazed to learn how yoga can heal the physical body and am keen to learn how to support my students who are dealing with injuries.  Can Yoga hurt you? Yes of course.  As with any physical activity, there is an opportunity for injury.  Noah reminds us of the risks of "Couchasana" or "Couch Pose".  As my osteopath also told me, yes yoga can cause injury if done improperly but so can sitting on your couch!  Activity can cause injury. Inactivity can cause injury. How to prevent injury in Yoga?  Proper Alignment and Respect for the limits of the body.  How to heal injuries with yoga?  Proper Alignment and Respect for the limits of the body.  Yeah?  Yeah!

Upper Body:

 

Our focus on the upper body began with the curves of the spine.  We examined the lodorsis and kyphosis of the spine.  In our society where many of us do too much sitting (at a computer or desk) and not enough exercise, muscular weakness in the spine and physical imbalances occur.

 

 

 

 

We examined the shoulders, collar bone, and alignment of head and shoulders. It is a common misalignment in our society to be "head forward" -our heads are forward of our body, chin dropped which results in tension in the neck, jaw and headaches. For every inch that the head moves forward in posture, it increases the weight of the head on the neck by 10 POUNDS! This leads to chronic head, neck and shoulder tension and pain..... A reminder of the importance of engaging the

"Skull Loop" -the magic yoga cure!

 

We examined the alignment of the upper body in a variety of postures including mountain (tadasana), plank, chataranga, downward dog (adho mukha svanasana), Warrior 2 (virabhadrasana II), Side Plank (Vasisthasana) and we did some lovely adjustments. 

 

 

 

 

Lower Body:

Noah began this day with the reminder: "Don't do something you can't do".  If you can't do a pose safely, then don't do it!  He shared the idea that baby walkers and jumpers are not endorsed because they put babies into positions to do something they can't do.  Noah also stressed moving from non-weight bearing to weight bearing as you progress in your practice. The idea here makes perfect sense, we must do things in a progression from easier to more difficult in a time that honours the capabilities of our bodies.  This brings to mind the principles of scaffolding...that is the ideal learning happens when the teaching is just a little more challenging than what the person can already do.  Make it to easy and there is no new learning, make it to difficult and you risk frustration or worse, injury.


In this learning based session we focused on the lower body...you could spend a lifetime learning about the anatomy of the knee, lower back, pelvis, hips, upper leg, lower leg, ankles, feet! We looked at these regions of the body and how to align them.  Noah set the mission for this session to be increased knowledge and experience in therapeutics of these regions of the body for whatever style of yoga the participants teach. 

Pelvis:  We looked at the range of motion of the pelvis. In Yoga, we often focus on the sit bones, the seat of the pelvis right from the beginning of class as we take our seats on our mat for a centering.  The pelvis is the focal point for many of the poses (from the core of the pelvis we extend through the legs and out through the feet and then back from the heel of the foot into the pelvis and then from the pelvis through the heart and out through the crown of the head and out of our fingertips).

The Core of the Pelvis – a point within the pelvis a few inches below the navel, in line with the bottom of the sacrum where the tailbone begins. Active in standing and sitting poses, in which the pelvis is the most weight-bearing part of the pose.

 In the "Table Top" position we let the pelvis settle down up to the heads of the femurs -the shape of the femurs and how they fit into the socket is optimal in this pose (as if we were still quadripeds -four-legged creatures).  "Let pelvis get heavy on the heads of your femurs and with no effort on your part let this heaviness create a curve in the lumbar spine, relax your belly for a moment -when the femur seats itself the pelvis tips forward and the top of the sacrum tips forward and we get the curve in the lumbar spine -do your best to keep that and press back into downward dog.  What we get easily in that all fours position doesn't come easily in downward dog...because of the hamstrings pulling on the pelvis and they want to flatten and round your lower back. Bend your knees halfway to the floor, spread your toes, firm the muscles of the legs, pull the legs of the muscles toward each other isometrically and get your inner thighs, your adductors to tone and without turning your feet, widen the knees as wide as your ankles, take the inner thighs back, lift the sit bones, broaden your sit bones, widen the tops of your thigh bones, tip your pelvis forward, arch your back,  get that curve, that lodorsis in your lumbar spine, keep that and with the power of your legs, stretch your legs straight."   WOW!!!!!  Talk about alignment instruction! Note at what point did the shape of the lower back change as you straightened your legs. 

Tadasana:  What happens when we come up onto 2 legs?  The Pelvis gets thrust forward.  Head of the femur that was seated so nicely in

table, comes forward.  This creates a whole host of problems or opportunities as Noah likes to call them :)   We look at the body of our partner here from the side to see the optimal alignment -optimally lower back should have a lordosis (curve that goes in) -this curve develops when we start weight bearing on our legs as we learn to walk in babyhood.  Looking at landmarks here -centre of hips, centre of knee, centre of ankle.  What's forward and what's back.  Almost invariably the pelvis is forward when we stand.  The back flattens a little, the femur is forward the hip flexors get tighter, pulls on the si joint....  Optimally we want the hips over the knees over the ankles (shins forward, thighs back, keep those thighs back as you slide sides of waist back, tone belly and lengthen tail to achieve this-tendency when we tone belly and lengthen tail is for femurs to go forward again). 

 

 

       

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