I’m not flexible, can I do yoga????


yoga myth monday (7)


Posture of the Month: Spine Time – June 2017

Happy June!

This month we have another awesome posture for you to work on.

 The Spine Twisting Pose

Spine Twisting Pose.png

What is it??

  • 150-degree rotation of the spine,
  • all vertebra rotating 1-5 degrees from top to bottom.

The spine twisting pose has some great benefits for your body:

  • Increases circulation and nutrition to spinal nerves, veins, and tissues
  • Improves spinal elasticity and flexibility
  • Helps cure lumbago and rheumatism of the spine
  • Improves digestion
  • Firms abdomen, thighs, and buttocks
  • Strengthens back and abdominal muscles
  • Increases flexibility of the hip and shoulder joints
  • Prevents and heals herniated disc
  • Detoxifying
  • Helps arthritis of the knee and sciatica

Bikram Yoga and Benign Positional Vertigo

A bout of vertigo can put the brakes on a lot of daily activity. Can you still practice yoga? Will it help? Will it make it worse?

As with most questions in life, the answer is, When in doubt, go to yoga.

I have suffered from motion sickness and periodic bouts of vertigo throughout my life. It wasn’t until my early thirties that an ear exam revealed I have Meniere’s disease, a genetic condition shared by my father and sister, and an explanation for vertigo at such a young age.

Practicing yoga has been a life-saver.

I cannot say classes with vertigo are easy or fun, but they are a path to feeling better for the rest of the day. To understand how to use your practice to help your vertigo, it’s critical to understand the main causes of Benign Positional Vertigo (BPV).

The otolith organs (utrical and sacculus) in your ear monitor your position in relation to gravity with a combination of fine hairs and tiny crystals. For different reasons, the crystals can occasionally get dislodged from these organs and find their way into semicircular canals that make up the vestibular labrynth. It is the out-of-bounds crystals in the vestibular canals that cause the nystagmus, nausea and dizziness that make up vertigo.

To get on track to feeling better, we must first get those crystals back where they belong. There are several techniques out there to counter BPV. The most popular for years was the Epley Maneuver, which I found effective about 50% of the time and works better if it is done to you by a professional.

In recent years, I discovered the Foster’s Maneuver designed by Dr. Carol Foster. This technique is simple to use and can be repeated until you feel better. It is easily assimilated right in the middle of class if you notice the vertigo returning. Please watch the technique in the video below.

What to do in class?

First, perform the Foster’s maneuver prior to class. Because it is ideally done in 15-minute intervals, it is best to do it about 5-10 minutes prior to the start of class. Before you do the technique, lie on your back and roll over to one side and sit up. Repeat on the other side. Note which side made you feel worse. This is the side you will turn your head to during the exercise.

When the class begins Prayanama, it may feel a little bit gross the first few times you drop your head back. If there are still free crystals, they are moving around. That’s why you may feel nauseated or a little dizzy. The exhale breath actually helps to bring the crystals to the back of the vestibular canals where you want them for the maneuver. Go slowly, but don’t skip over it. It will make you feel better in the long run.

Half Moon Pose is helpful in loosening all of the muscles you’ve been tensing since you woke up with vertigo. It’s good for your overall health, so participate. I often find I don’t have a lot of strength when I have vertigo, so don’t be surprised if it looks very different from your usual posture. Complete the lateral flexion (side bends) and the back bend, but skip the forward bend, Hands to Feet, for this class.

The backward bend of Half Moon is the same as the prep phase of the Foster’s Technique. Since the first forward bend in class is about 15 minutes after you did the first set of Foster’s, now is a great time to repeat it. From the back bend, keep looking up and come down to your knees and execute the rest of the maneuver from there while the class completes hands to feet.

In the second set, do not repeat the Foster’s Technique, but skip the forward bend.

Awkward, Eagle, Standing Head-to-knee and Standing Bow can be executed as usual, with one exception. If you have the ability to put your forehead on your knee in SH2K, don’t do that today. Keep your face parallel to the mirror.

Balancing Stick should be done to tolerance. Most people find they cannot come all of the way down to parallel. If you woke up with a full-fledged vertigo this morning, I’d recommend keeping your face parallel to the mirror for this class. This means you will only come down about halfway into the stick pose.

By the time we get to Standing Separate-leg Stretching, if has been about 15 minutes since your last Foster’s Technique. If you are still experiencing a little of that shaky-eye nystagmus, this is a good time to repeat it.

If you are feeling okay at this point, feel free to perform the posture, but keep your face up, above the horizontal plane. For flexible students, you may be able to achieve this by placing your hands on the floor and doing the posture with a flat back. If you are a little less loose in the hamstrings, do this with your hands on your thighs for support.

half way ssls

Triangle can be performed normally, but pay attention to how you feel. You may not be able to turn your head to the ceiling if it is making you sick, especially to your bad side.

So that you don’t reverse the good you’ve been doing with the Foster’s maneuver, please do not go down in Standing Separate-leg Head-to-knee. Setting up the arms and turning to the side is enough for today. Stretching your arms up and lengthening your spine is plenty of hard work anyway.

Tree Pose is not likely to present any problems. Go slowly in Toe Stand to see how far down you can go before the headache and nausea creeps back in. Again, try to keep your face parallel to the front mirror.

Once we get to the floor, it can be very difficult to lie on your back in Savasana with your head completely horizontal. Trying using a block or a rolled up towel to prop up your head to a position where can lie comfortably without the world spinning.

It is okay to perform Wind-Removing Pose with your head slightly elevated, but don’t tuck your chin strongly to your chest.

For the Cobra series the postures are generally helpful for vertigo, but you may need to start and finish the postures with your face parallel to the mirror. This would look like setting up Cobra propped up on your elbows or Full Locust and Bow with your chest already off the floor. On really bad days, I find I need to do the pregnancy version of Locust pose to stave off the nausea.

For the belly-down Savasanas, I generally find that propping my turned head up on two fists is enough lift to stave off the dizziness, but still feel able to rest comfortably. Your rolled-up towel from Wind-Removing would probably work fine here, too.

During the rest of the class, the up and down of each Savasana may be too much for your spinning head. Feel free to sit up between postures or lean against the back wall.

Fixed Firm should feel nice. Go slowly with dropping your head back until the vertigo is gone. Half Tortoise is not recommended until you’re feeling better. It’s really not worth it to try it and start the world spinning again.

Camel is another wonderful back bend that gets the crystals to drop back in the vestibular canals. At this point, it has been more than 15 minutes since your last Fosters maneuver. After the second set of Camel, you’re in the perfect position to whip down into another set. Rabbit should be avoided anyway, so you have a few minutes to do a good, long hold. Remember to hold each phase of the maneuver until the nystagmus stops.

Head-to-knee and Stretching can be performed to tolerance, as long as you don’t drop the head below the horizontal line.

Spine Twist can also be performed as usual, although you may find you need to move your head very slowly through the twist if it brings back the nystagmus.

For the final Savasana you may continue to use the rolled up towel to prop your head or you might find you are feeling well enough to test out a normal execution.

The most important part of this process is to move slowly and with awareness so you can discover what makes your body feel better or worse and stay within your physical limitations for today.

It is recommended with the Epley maneuver that you sleep propped up for the next 24 hours. It does not come recommended with the Foster’s maneuver, but I generally sleep with my head elevated for the next couple of days just to be sure it doesn’t return.

BPV can be initiated or exacerbated by low barometric pressure due to pressure sensitivity in the ear. In times of low barometric pressure, it will help to continue these recommendations both for class and for sleep until the pressure changes.

If you have any questions, ask your teachers for help navigating this difficult time.

sara and bella headstand





Sara Curry is the co-owner and Director of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. When her vertigo is under control, she enjoys spending time upside down with her husband and two kids in Southern Maine.





Comfortable in My Skin

When I took my first Bikram Yoga Class, I was 22 years old. I was a landscaper by day and a heavy drinker by night. I paired my Budweisers each day with at least a dozen American Spirits, if not two. My job was hard on my body and my best friend and I relaxed at the end of the day with some well-deserved brews.

After my first class, I felt amazing. The class itself was hard and uncomfortable, but after I felt light and happy. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the “yoga high” or what was happening in my body.

I had the perfect excuse not to return. I was too young to need this type of yoga.  It was hard and I was uncomfortable for several hours out of the day.  Yes, it’s only a 90-minute class, but I suffered from severe anxiety. I was uncomfortable from the moment I agreed to go until I was leaving the parking lot.

I have lived my whole life uncomfortable in my own skin.

So I quit. It took me five years to get back on the mat again.  At this point in my life, was no longer drinking, but still smoked a pack a day.  I started out small, going to class a couple of times a week.  The classes were still as hard as I remembered, but I had lost the bloat that comes from drinking a six pack of tall boys a night and that made the classes more tolerable.  My lungs burned in class, but not enough to keep me from craving that all-too-welcoming post-yoga smoke.

When we got a positive pregnancy test, I finally gave up the smokes. My daughter wasn’t going to grow up in a house with a smoker. Unfortunately, I also gave up the yoga. I wish I had known then what I know now about how yoga eases the effects of withdrawals physiologically, emotionally, and mentally.

I spent six years without drinking before deciding when my second child was two that my earlier struggles with drinking were probably just from being young and immature. I couldn’t handle my drinking before, but now I’d be able to cope and limit myself and control the types of behaviors that led me to quit in my early twenties.

I was a social worker, stressed to the max. Within a year, I was back drinking another six  pack most days and taking my stress out on everyone around me. I was so stressed that I needed a beer to relax. The funny part is that the alcohol always made my anxiety worse.

I was right back to that old ingrained fight-or-flight behavior.  I knew something had to give. My wife had given up telling me that she knew something that really would help with my stress, but I wasn’t going to practice yoga when I couldn’t get to class every day.

I was miserable and the stakes only kept getting higher at my job. I made the choice to leave my high-stress, unpredictable job and attend yoga teacher training. This scared me to death. I couldn’t talk in front of two people, answer the phone at my house, or make an appointment for myself. Forget about standing on a podium and teaching yoga to a large group of people. Somewhere I found the courage to go anyway.

I went to training and the question that played in my mind over and over again throughout those 99 classes surprised me. The question wasn’t whether I’d be able to teach; it was whether I’d be strong enough to keep up the sobriety that I’d sustained for two months when I got out of yoga hell.  I had this underlying pull telling me it was time to give it all up, but I wasn’t ready.  I continued to drink for another two years after graduating from teacher training.

What would it take to give up my crutch that didn’t actually help me?  I’m ashamed to say it took getting drunk, acting belligerent, and having my little girl ask me over and over on a car ride home from a birthday party, “Daddy, are you okay?  What’s wrong, Daddy? Daddy, are you okay?”  I was scaring and confusing one of the most important people in my life.

I woke up the next morning and remembered everything that had happened the night before. I told her never ever would I act that way again. It has been my intention from that point forward that she would not grow up in a household where she was on edge, where life was unpredictable, where secrets were held, and shame was the underlying feeling for the person that was her role model.

I am sober. Sobriety has changed my life. 

I had gotten sober before, with the support of my wife. I thought I could do it on my own again and for the first year, I did.

When we started the Sober Yogis program, I had a nagging feeling that I was going to have to do it. As I listened to each person speak, I made the decision not just to be a teacher, but to be a participant. Sober Yogis was the support system I didn’t know I needed. It changed the way I view myself as a sober person.

My sobriety was enhanced by knowing that I’m not alone in this plight to be sober.  In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a plight any more. I’m sober. This is who I am and I’m so proud of it.  I have a life where I feel good in my skin. I’ve come to realize through yoga that life is lived when we can go through moments of discomfort great and small and not suppress them with drugs, food, or alcohol. I can feel extremely happy, down in the dumps, anxious as all hell and just ride the feeling through.

For me, being sober, just like being a drinker, it is a choice.  As a fellow sober yogi once said, “I can have that hell back any time I want it.” Sobriety is a choice to be strong, a choice to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, it’s a choice to be in control, and it’s a truly powerful decision.

My daughter says to me all of the time, “I saved your life, didn’t I, Daddy?”  She knows I quit smoking and drinking to be a better dad to her and Judah.  Yes, Bella did save my life, but Sara saved my soul by bringing Sober Yogis to me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I could live a life of happiness in my skin. Yet here I am: living the dream.

jaylon and kidsJaylon Curry is the father of two, avid yogi, chicken farmer, and co-owner of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth in New Hampshire.



In 2012, Yoga Journal published the findings of their yoga market study revealing that over 20 million Americans practice yoga. This number represents less than 9% of the US population.

An astonishing 44% of Americans consider themselves aspiring yogis, or people who want to try yoga.

9% of Americans practice yoga. 44% want to try.

From this information was born the #findthe44percent project. After watching Kim Kardashian try to #breaktheinternet with her derriere, yoga studios all over the country decided to put the same effort into bringing awareness of yoga.

Driven by the therapeutic potential of the practice, yogis all over the country are using social media to try to #findthe44percent who haven’t found the time, the location or the courage to give yoga a shot.

Studios are running #findthe44percent promotions and posting articles on the web targeting new students.

Individuals in other lines of business have questioned the logic of competing yoga businesses promoting in tandem. Proponents of the movement beg to differ.

One of the foundational principles of yoga is aparigraha or non-grasping. By not trying to hold on to ideas, materials, wealth or possessions, one brings abundance to their life. “I have always believed that more yoga anywhere means more yoga everywhere,” says #findthe44percent founder Sara Curry. “I don’t care if it is at my studio or another or what discipline speaks to someone, as long as people are finding a way to a practice that can help them feel better and enjoy life more.”

“Maybe it is a little selfish, too,” said Curry. “People are a lot nicer after a good class. Can you imagine what traffic would be like if it was 50% post-savasana yogis?”

You can help, too. Ask your local studio about their 2015 #findthe44percent promotion.

Bring a friend to yoga and check in with #findthe44percent at your favorite studio.

Post an article you found suitable for fledgling yogis and tag it #findthe44percent.

Talk your mom into finally trying a class. Maybe you could win a month of unlimited yoga. #findthe44percent.


Battling Diabetes through Bikram Yoga

Type 1 Diabetes also known as Juvenile Diabetes or Diabetes Melitus is a genetic condition usually affecting children.

Juvenile Diabetes has nothing to do with an unhealthy lifestyle, eating too much sugar, or lack of exercise. There is genetic abnormality on chromosome six that causes the white blood cells of the body to attack the insulin-producing portion of the pancreas killing the hormone which enables the body to metabolize carbohydrates. Without insulin a person will die because there is no way for the cells to get the nutrients they need for survival.

When I was 10 years old, I lost 30 pounds in one month. I was lethargic and unable to wake up for school.  My parents were convinced that I was depressed and did not want to attend school. When I went to the doctor a blood sugar test showed that my blood sugar levels were in the 600s (normal range is 80-120).  A blood sugar this high can lead to coma and eventually death.  It was determined that I had Juvenile Diabetes.

At New York University Hospital I learned the ropes of living with a chronic disease.  Insulin shots, carbohydrate counting, and blood sugar testing became my new way of life.  Hospital visits, scary lows and highs, and anxiety and depression inevitably came with the diabetes.

I once heard an analogy that having diabetes is like pushing a giant boulder up a hill all day long.

The next day it rolls back down and you do it all over again.  One never gets a day off. It is a full time job.  Fortunately, this has made me determined, with a willingness to try new things.

When I was 26, I underwent an experimental pancreas transplant. The surgery required a daily regimen of anti-rejection drugs and steroids.

After a very long and complicated surgery, I was no longer diabetic.

I could wake up in the morning and not push up the giant boulder.  I could take my son for a walk in his stroller and enjoy a cup of coffee without testing, shots, or worrying about the diabetes “grind”.   Most importantly, I was free of the fear of the complications that come with long-term diabetes; such as blindness, heart disease, nerve pain, kidney disease, and a shorter life expectancy.  I was cured!

Unfortunately, three years later, I started to get very sick.  A biopsy revealed that my new pancreas was failing.  The pancreas had enlarged and adhered to many of my internal organs.  After a nine hour surgery the pancreas was removed.

I woke up in intensive care a diabetic again.

I grieved for a long time.  I was depressed, but knew that I had to brush myself off and keep going for the sake of my son.  Over time, I went back to work as a teacher and got back into running.  I have always been a runner and found that exercise has been a key to healthy blood sugars and emotional happiness.

A friend of mine watched me struggle with depression after the failed transplant. She recommended I try Bikram Yoga. She described the physical and emotional benefits.  I was hesitant because I was fearful that the extreme heat would affect my blood sugars in a negative way.  I asked my doctor and she told me to test before and after class to see how my body would react.

I  was very impressed at the physical intensity, but simultaneous meditative aspect of the yoga.  I continued to practice 3-4 times a week and noticed that, over-time, I was requiring less long-acting insulin and my blood sugars seemed to have less extreme fluctuations. Right after class, I noticed some high blood sugars, but this was an adrenaline spike that has dissipated over time.  After two years of steady practice, I decided to become a teacher to make this yoga an integral part of my life.

Teacher training was challenging, but inspiring.  I was able to make yoga and health the main focus of my life for 9 weeks.  Doctor Tracy, a physician from Colorado State, described a new study showing that elevated heat makes the body use insulin more effectively. This is important for non-diabetics, too, as elevated insulin levels can lead to Type II Diabetes.

He also described the circulatory benefits of the postures on many of the organs that can get destroyed by diabetes.  Improving circulation is extremely important to diabetics.  To learn about his study please read his research.

It took about four weeks to figure out the right insulin-carb-yoga combination, but I found that if I practiced 7 times a week, my blood sugars were always normal.  I was sitting in lecture one evening and burst into tears of joy because I was not on an ultimate road to diabetes complications.  I felt my first hope since my transplant.

One speaker at teacher training described how westerners love our “things”.   Not just our material possessions but also our ailments and our problems.  We say things like “my knee problem”, “my arthritis”, “my addictions”, “my diabetes”…I began to think differently about my diabetes, my childhood of illness, and my transplant rejection. I am not these things. They do not have to be mine. Diabetes is something that I have to deal with, but when I am not testing my blood sugar or taking my shot I do not have to let it define me.

Most importantly this yoga, allows me to be completely free of my diabetes in my mind for 90 minutes.

I am free of my disease in there. In the hot room, I am not a diabetic. I am one of many in the room who is overcoming an obstacle. As Sara says, I am simply doing the best I can with the body I have today. There are people in there who have faced and continue to face much bigger obstacles than I. We are allies in there working through our stuff. By focusing on our postures and our breath we are simply people trying to “lock our knees”.

Update: This year I experienced something called “diabetes burnout”.  

A great yogi I met at the studio, Charlene, once said “bad feelings don’t last forever, but the good ones don’t either. This yoga can help us get back to those good feelings again.”

The emotional feelings, as with any chronic illness, that come with type 1 Diabetes are complex, ranging through depression, exhaustion, resentment, anger, and sometimes forced acceptance.

I sat in my doctors office several months ago upset after hearing that, even with all of my work (testing blood sugars, taking shots, counting every carbohydrate), I have the very beginning stages of diabetes retinopathy.  This affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes.

I turned to my doctor and just said, “I don’t feel like I can do this anymore”. He said, “I get it. Really I do. Tell me, what other options do you have?”

It is times like these that remind me of what Charlene said. This was definitely a bad time, but there was something that I knew could give me strength again–the hot room.

There is something that happens in that room.  It is not a loud or exciting event with fireworks and music, but rather a quiet voice that comes to me and to other students as well.  Every time I make it through a difficult posture or can lie still in savasana, this yoga tells me deep down in its quiet subtle way, “You’ve got this. Keep going.

Diabetics are prone to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease. In fact heart attacks and other cardiovascular complications cause the death of nearly three out of every four people with type 1 diabetes, compared with just one in four in the general population.

Yesterday, I went to the doctor. With a resting heart rate of 56 and a blood pressure of 100/50, the doctor told me that I am physically the same as a healthy 14-year old. I know this yoga keeps me healthy: physically and emotionally. I know it is responsible for my great numbers.  I know it is what helps me keep going. I know it has helped me get back to those “good feelings” again.

I’ve got this.

ImageErin Fleming is a Bikram Yoga instructor and Elementary School teacher from Lebanon, Maine. She would be happy to talk more with you at the studio or reach out to her here. Please note: Erin is not an endocrinologist. All individuals with diabetes or pre diabetic conditions should consult a specialist.


So long, SI pain!

Good god, Jim! The last time I felt like this, Cynthia and Ky had come to do Advanced with us after winning the International Championship in 2007. It was the first class I felt like I was making progress in my body, not just surviving or recovering. Not only can I pick up my foot in Standing Head-to-Knee, but I can put my head on my knee at 6:30 am.

Bella was about 18 months old at the time. We have some really cute pictures of her in class with us and her soggy diaper. It was the first time I felt like I could actually try in Guillotine without dislodging my sacrum on the left.

My strength is back. I have control over my abdominal muscles. I can actually hold Peacock and Cock and Lifting Lotus. I really never anticipated that I would take so long to get back to those places. The first time I tried Peacock postpartum it was like I had never done it before.

Cock? Postpartum, I was back to being able to lift my Lotus up only a half an inch! I remember sitting down the day after Bella was born and leaning forward. My rectus abdominus actually folded in half! My only consolation was that I knew I had done it before, so I knew I would get there again.

My flexibility is progressing. I can finally push in Hands-to-Feet, Tortoise, Rabbit and Frog. For nearly five years, every time I would try to go deeper, it would cause that horrifying sacroiliac pain. The chiropractor helped me to get my sacrum level again in 2007, but tight psoas and piriformus kept straining the joint.

I have to credit Emmy Cleaves with resolving my SI and hip problems. When I saw her in November 2010 at the Women’s Retreat in Orlando, she helped every woman in the room with hip pain. “If you have a chronic pain in the hip, it can generally be traced to Triangle.” She corrected each and every one of us. She sat right on me. Rode me like a donkey.

The only correction Bikram has ever given me was to push my hips more forward in Triangle. Laura always corrects me to get my hip forward, but I never got it until she showed us all of the pit falls. I’d get my hip forward, but my whole torso would come with it. I’d get low enough, but I’d have tilted my hips in the set up. More often than not, I just wasn’t pushing my left hip forward because my psoas was too tight.

Since then, my pain has been slowly diminishing. I stretch my hip flexors and piriformus every single day. Now that I bring my attention to them, I can feel how tight they are in Half Moon back bend and Camel. My hips have been sore for about three months. In a great way. Like I’m doing double sessions for rugby. Triangle is hard as hell every single time.

I’ve also been seeing Paul Caswell at Performance Muscular Therapy in Portsmouth. Absolutely amazing. My first visit, I thought I was going to jump up off the table and punch him. Or maybe just bawl my baby blues out.

I knew I had tight hips, but I had no idea I had so much garbage in my hamstrings and quadriceps. By the third session, the massage to my legs and hips just felt like a deep massage. I was shocked by the absence of pain. Gives me hope for the future. I conquered the back pain in 2004 and the hip pain in 2011. Namaste, BABY!