The sadhana of lowering expectations of practice during the holidays

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Most of the times during the year, people who practice yoga have a distinct advantage over those who do not. The peace and tranquility of proper yoga practice gives the aspirant a “psychic shield” from the onslaughts of modern culture. However, during the holiday season the tables can quickly turn. A good yoga practitioner who thrives on a regular routine practice will find barriers in holiday class cancellations and family visitors.

I have been in both camps in my years of practice. There have been years where I have shunned family gatherings to make that Sunday class. I was in great shape! However, I think I really missed out on some special family times that I cannot ever get back. So for these next few weeks, I propose a solution: practice when you can, but don’t miss out on special times if there is a choice between loved ones and yoga practice.

Sounds easy enough. Before you hard core practitioners tune me out, I would recommend that you see the film Sadhu. It documents a man living in a cave in India leading an ascetic lifestyle. He complains incessantly about being lonely and cold. On his transistor radio, he hears an advertisement for the Maha Kumbha Mela, a confluence of holy men at the foot of the Himalyas. He quickly packs up his bags, leaves his cave, and treks to event.

He arrives at the Ganges river and tries to fit in with the other holy men. A group takes him in, but in no time they shun him for not bathing in the Ganges at the most auspicious time. He somehow “didn’t make the cut” and curses his own practice.

There is a lot of “not making the cut” in the yoga world nowadays. Just sit through 5 minutes of any yoga championship on You Tube and you’ll see what I mean. If you stray just a millimeter off that thin line of daily practice, you fall endlessly into the chasm of whatever your mind thinks you should be doing but are not doing it. Don’t “fall” into that trap. Instead, just accept the holidays for what they are: a celebration of friends and family and even embrace the spirit. Sometimes being subversive to the culture is not always the best way to stop your mind chatter.

In my work as a mental health counselor, I often tell my depressed clients to lower their expectations during the holidays so they are not disappointed if the season does not bring them the joy that the media says it is supposed to. That seems to work for them. In the same way for yoga practitioners, lowering your expectations to have a consistent practice during this time makes for a more realistic mental outlook. And being more realistic is one of the true aims of yoga. Not doing 15 hours of asana practice per week during Christmas time.

Mele Kalikimaka!

 

 

Help! Help! I’ve been one starred on Yelp!

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I have to admit that I am a Yelp fiend. Because I enjoy writing, I often write reviews on places I frequent. I rarely one star businesses unless I feel they are preying on unsuspecting customers. Also, it is lousy to be on the receiving end of a one star review. And that is exactly what happened to me this week.

I was perusing yoga studios on my Yelp app and came across my own studio and noticed the stars have gone down. Much to my dismay, I came across this:

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Because I am classy, I left out the reviewers name. But I noticed his name didn’t match any of my students, so I complimented him. I said, “Funny I didn’t recall telling anyone who was male not to drink water in my all female attended class.” He later added the last part of his review stating he wrote it for his daughter.

As it turns out, the daughter had attended another teacher’s class and he wrote the review without even verifying which teacher his daughter was upset with. The good people at Yelp removed the post quickly as it violated their terms of service for reviewing a place you haven’t even patronized.

In a way I wished the review was accurate, because my mentoring teachers used to say I had a monotone presentation. Being compared to a basketball coach would make them proud!

As for the water complaint, my studio has a policy not to put water bottles on the new hardwood floor and another teacher probably asked the guy’s daughter to put her water on the shelf. In Iyengar Yoga, students don’t need to stay an arms length away from water just to stay alive like other styles. The teacher in question probably relayed that to her and all she heard was “you can’t drink water.”

It’s not good karma to one star people who don’t deserve it on Yelp. And because I live in accordance to the Yamas and Niyamas,  good things tend to come my way. I received another review from Luci at YogaSpy which was named one of the top 100 yoga blogs. She said in her recent post commemorating her five years of blogging that Home Yoga Practice is one of her favorite blogs! Coming from Luci who is a great blogger and seasoned Iyengar practitioner, this review feels better than being Freshly Pressed. Thanks Luci and congratulations of making 5 years as a blogger. That is a feat that I cannot image.

 

 

Iyengar Yoga helps wounded soldier regain daily functioning

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Today would have been B.K.S. Iyengar’s 96th birthday. To illustrate the legacy of Iyengar’s teaching, I would like to draw attention to this video. It is an interview with Mark Zambon who attended Geeta Iyengar’s 10-day intensive that wrapped up last week.

Zambon lost both of his legs in a bomb blast when he was serving in Afghanistan. To assist with his rehabilitation, he was directed to an Iyengar yoga class taught by a Vietnam veteran. The elder veteran advised Zambon to try Iyengar yoga. He said “combat veterans take well to Iyengar yoga because it touches a very similar space in the experience of life.”

Zambon said the loss of his legs after the bomb blast radically changed his body functioning aside from the obvious loss of two useful limbs. He said it was difficult to cool himself down because 30 percent of his body surface had disappeared and he would sweat profusely after doing basic activities like simply getting into bed.

He states that during his Iyengar practice he was taught Salamba Sirsasana and states that the pose made his phantom leg pain disappear. He also notes that it has sharpened his senses. Zambon also noted that during the 10-day intensive, the pranayama practice showed him the more internal dimensions Yoga. “At the end of the pranayama drills, I feel a tranquility in my mind…a wonderful peace.”

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He said that Iyengar’s emphasis on getting the body back into alignment has helped him not only regain the ability to do daily activities like drive a car, but states it was able to allow him to continue his hobby of mountaineering. Zambon climbed to the summit of Mt. Kilamanjaro and proudly displayed a Salamba Sirsasana atop the mountain.

Being no stranger to challenges, Zambon states he wants to now train to be a certified Iyengar instructor. Although it is a tough path to get certified, Zambon shows that he has the true grit to ace the certification process.

An early birthday tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar

 

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Courtesy Penney Sing

This Sunday will have been B.K.S Iyengar’s 96th birthday. I would like to dedicate my 100th post as  a tribute to him and his teachings. When he passed away in August, he left a legacy of a renewed interest in Yoga worldwide, a beautiful system of instruction for those who want to learn Yoga, and his children who are continuing his path to train and teach his style of Yoga.

Manouso Manos, a senior teacher said that Iyengar is a “500 year yogi” meaning that there is only one teacher of his kind to inhabit the planet once every 500 years. Many of us are lucky to have been alive at the same time as him even if unable to actually attend his classes. I feel very fortunate to be the last graduating class of Iyengar teachers with a diploma that bore his signature.

Many in the community are still mourning his loss, and probably will continue mourning for some time. Since his passing, many in the community have even drawn closer together. This past week, Geeta Iyengar, B.K.S.’ daughter, conducted a 10-day retreat in Pune, India attended by thousands from around the world.

Even if you practice another style, there is a large chance that what you are learning has been influenced by this great man. So on Dec 14, set aside a space in your mind for B.K.S. Iyengar, the 500 year yogi.

Thank you Guruji for all that you have given to humanity.

 

 

Eating crow…and cinnamon biscuits

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After officially declaring how teaching Yoga does not make one rich, the universe keeps pounding me over the head with refuting evidence. Today another student brought me homemade cinnamon biscuits and left a note: “Michael you can heat these up and eat with butter or eat them as they are.”

Since when after Mayberry times do people actually bring you home baked goods just of the kindness of their heart? My student who brought them to me was simply grateful I did not turn on the ceiling fan near where she practices because she gets vertigo. She was very worried that I would not honor her request. What kind of Iyengar Yoga instructor would I be if I didn’t listen to my students?

So my official “paycheck” for teaching my new class so far has been one bag of fruit and one tin of cinnamon biscuits. Back in the ancient times, sadhus (wandering Yogi holymen) would receive a bowl of rice by townspeople for their teachings and practices. My bag of fruit and biscuits remind me that I am on that same path…just with updated offerings.

Of course I get paid by my studio for teaching. But if gifts like these keep coming, I may have to call my tax lady to see if I am in compliance with federal income laws. Many Iyengar teachers who are starting out like me remark how the money they make from teaching usually goes back into paying for classes and workshops. I haven’t even made enough to do that much. Perhaps when Kofi Busia rolls back into town, I will give him some homemade ratatouille :)

Thank you students for your kind gifts!

A Yoga Sutra for the holidays

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During my Saturday class, I usually write a Yoga Sutra on the marker board to reflect upon during certain moments in the class. Anyone who has put any kind of time into the Yoga Sutras knows straight away that they are about conditioning the practitioner’s mind toward Samadhi. However, there are certain sutras that speak of the practitioner’s role in the world, and how he/she behaves in order to keep the mind still. That is when Sutra 1.33 jumped out at me:

Maitri karuna muditopekshanam sukha duhkha punyapunya vishayanam bhavanatash chitta prasadanam

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains it’s undisturbed calmness.

This is the time of year when compassion is paramount. There is much suffering in the world. We don’t need to think of far off places like Liberia or Iraq where there is no doubt more suffering than one can image. Nationally, the residents of Ferguson and New York City have recently had their share of woes. And locally, all we have to do is go to our corner strip mall and we are likely to find someone looking in the dumpster for their next meal.

Compassion is our way of giving our Yoga practice back to the world. We take away from others by our time spent on the mat. By proper practice, that time taken away can be used much like waiting for fruit to ripen fully before presenting it at the table. When you emerge to the world, you are ready to help and be above the cycles of misery prevalent in modern society.

By reflecting on this Sutra, we see that having a compassionate feeling towards the less fortunate in turn stills our mind. Very much like a self-recharging battery, the more compassion you give, the more you are capable of giving.

There is also a line about being indifferent to those who have wronged you. By not giving your vital life force by dwelling on the wrongs done to you, you are able to move one step closer to profound liberation.

Happy holidays everyone!

Happy Birthday Geetaji!

Geeta Iyengar

Geeta Iyengar celebrates her 70th birthday today. She is the daughter of B.K.S. Iyengar and has been instrumental in shaping the Iyengar method of teaching. She is celebrating her birthday not by taking it easy, but by teaching a 10 day intensive at a sports stadium in her hometown of Pune, India. I wished I could be there for the intensive, but it wasn’t in the cards this year.

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Like her father, she used Yoga to overcome illness in her younger years. By direction of her father, she was able to gain her health back. She uses her deep knowledge rooted in ayurveda to create sequences for women’s specific health concerns.

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Her teaching style is directive and uncompromising. However, when you see how compassionate she is with her motives to cut through straight to the truth, you see that her technique is pure gold. Students have said that she “sees everything.”

She has written and co-authored many books on Yoga. Her classic book Yoga: A Gem For Women, remains a staple in the Iyengar canon. It is one of the essential books we use in our teacher training. Like Light On Yoga, it gives precise step-by-step instructions on how to do poses and has asana courses for those who study on their own.

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Happy birthday Geetaji! Thank you for keeping the light shining on Iyengar Yoga.