IyengarAtPali1987

…2 years later

Saturday marks the the second anniversary of Guruji’s passing. I think he would be happy to see that his community of teachers and students continues to grow. As it is now assessment season, we can expect at least another 100-plus Certified Iyengar Yoga Teachers (CIYTs) by year’s end in the US, and perhaps another thousand or so worldwide. Considering we are a planet of  7.5 billion humans, the number of CIYTs is exponentially small in comparison. However, we have to see how many lives each of these CIYTs touch to  give these numbers more power.

In the yoga world, there are very few who have not at least heard of Iyengar’s name. He has had such a large influence on the yoga world, that even those who practice other systems have to give some acknowledgment to his contributions in the systemization of  asanas and the way they are taught.

One year ago during Birjoo Mehta’s workshop in San Diego, he said that as a teacher he should not “parrot” Guruji’s words, but to rather convey the “essence” of his teachings.

I may be talking about what he is giving me through the guru tattwa which where the books of his, which where teachings of his, what he said in lectures would only serve to confirm to what I have to say, what I have to feel, but it is not something he said.

As a CIYT, I can understand this sentiment. I could easily sit in front of my class with a copy of Light On Yoga and teach straight from the text. But that would be mechanical and boring for the students. Instead, he has taught “how” to teach by observing to who is standing in front of you. That requires tremendously more effort and creativity than reading from a script. It also gives one the discernment on what to teach and more importantly what not to teach.

I think he wanted us all to learn to see our students deeper than they themselves can perceive. A lazy knee in tadasana is telling on many other factors that the student may not be aware. Once you bring that awareness to the student, many other changes happen as a result. Seeing Guruji’s tapes and videos, I have seen him bring this type of awareness to his students again and again and again.

Even his photographs on Light On Yoga has enormous teachings which are not written. During my teacher trainings, my mentoring teachers, colleagues and I pour over pictures of a certain pose we are studying and always learn one more facet of the pose through that experience. The text is just basic. But through his system we have learned how to “see” a pose even from a photograph on a very deep level.

What he have given the world is a miracle. He resurrected yoga as an old and antiquated practice, to something that has tremendous healing force for the world in its current state. There is study after study about the effects of Iyengar yoga on health and each study confirms the sophistication of this system as a legitimate healing modality.

In a newspaper interview earlier this year, Prashant Iyengar said about his father’s teachings that “he left a legacy and I’m just a small part of it. You can’t grab the entire ocean in your palm. All of his students are carrying forward his legacy. Whatever I’ve learnt is what I will carry forward. One doesn’t practise or teach what one is taught but what one has learnt.”

So it is our duty as CIYT’s to carry his legacy forward by teaching the “essence” of what he has taught us. Even if we have never met him, we continue to be taught by him what has been passed through his senior teaches, his books, videos, and lectures.

May your light continue to shine on yoga and all of humanity, dear Guruji. You are indeed missed by all.

(photo credit: Penney Sing)

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A standing pose sequence if you have minimal props

If we want to do more yoga outside the studio, it is best to be practical. I like to integrate yoga into my work day, and therefore keep a few props at my desk at work. For this sequence, all you need are a mat, a block and a strap…

 

1 Tadasana

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2 Urdvha Hastasana

urdvha hastasana

3 Urdvha Baddanguliyasana

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4 Gomukhasana Arms (use strap if you can touch hands)

gomukhasana arms

5 Utthita Trikonasana (illustration Lior Hikrey)

lior trikonasana

6 Utthita Parsvakonasana (use block if needed)

Gettysburg U. Parsvakonasna

7 Ardha Chandrasana (use block if needed)

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8 Prasarita Padottanasana (use block under head if can’t reach the floor)

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9 Salamba Sirsasana (omit if mensturating, high blood pressure, or eye problems)

sirsasana iyengar

10 Dandasana

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11 Upavistha Konasana

upavistha konasna

12 Baddha Konasana (use strap around feet if you can’t reach them)

baddha konasana

13 Setu Bandha (bend knees, feet on floor if only one block)

setu bandha

14 Savasana

savasana

Enjoy your practice!

 

 

 

 

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Carl Rogers: transmitting shakti

When I was getting my masters in counseling psychology, we had to study all the great personality theorists: Sigumud Freud, Carl Jung, Fritz Perls, Karen Horney, and Albert Ellis just to name a few. But the one theorist I have gravitated toward and still utilize to this day is Carl Rogers.

Rogers was in psychology during an interesting time. It was all “behavioral” psychology of B.F. Skinner et al. Every thing had to be “observed” and proven very much like it is in a scientific study. That works well for some things. Namely stopping an identifiable problem like smoking cigarettes or gambling too much. However, I have found it doesn’t work well for human beings in their natural state. We are very nuanced and complex creatures.

Rogers was pretty much outcasted from the psychology community at the time because his theory was simply to “listen and reflect” (with a few conditions). His feelings had to match his actions with his client (congruence), he had to have unconditional positive regard for his client, and he had to have tremendous empathy. That trilogy of factors create the conditions for self actualization according to Rogers.

As you can see in this video of a therapy session back in the 1960s. A nervous client is uncomfortable at first. After only a few minutes, she is completely calm. Note how Rogers beautifully and deeply listens and reflects her feelings. He wonderfully demonstrates the effectiveness of his theory here.

Another thing about this session is that the client (Gloria) desperately wants Rogers to give her a hard sure fire “answer.” He just reflects back to her that she needs to accept herself in her natural state. That ultimately is the “answer” although unsatisfactory to the client who isn’t ready to hear that truth yet.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the teachings or Ramana Maharshi who had a very similar technique. Maharshi barely said anything to his devotees. I would simply gaze at them and somehow their dilemmas of self concept would evaporate. His gaze was full of empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence between his inner feelings and outward appearance.

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Both are examples of transmitting shakti. Shakti is not definable in words, but it can be described. There is a electrical quality about it, but a soft electrical quality unlike the property of true electricity. It is subtler and more refined. Some translate it as “magic” but that has a gimmicky and subtly “Western” bent to the definition that brings up thoughts of “good and bad.” Shakti is said to have a primarily “feminine” component, but is only at full potency when it corresponds with the “masculine” component. One beautiful definition of hathayoga from Srivatsa Ramaswami, one of Krishnamacharya’s students, is the merging with the Shiva (masculine) with the Shakti (feminine). To fully understand the concept, don’t look at the definition, but look at the result.

One of Maharshi’s students, Poonjaji (Papaji), is seen here transmitting shakti to a disciple in a brief transaction.  If you look through Papaji’s videos, you see this many times. He is talking directly to the disciple and appears to be uttering nonsense, then suddenly the disciple makes a dramatic shift in emotion and breaks down with a combination of laughter and tears. There is always a tremendous sense of relief on their faces. Scholar David Godman has a brief piece about his teachings here.

This realization has tremendous healing and self actualizing power. I often refer back to Bill W. (Co-author of Alcoholics Anonymous) who describes an experience of powerful shakti that not only cured his alcoholism, but showed the blueprint to help all others in stopping drinking. He had the realization when he was locked up in a hospital after a major drinking spell:

My depression deepened unbearably and finally it seemed to me as though I were at the bottom of the pit …. All at once I found myself crying out, “If there is a God, let Him show Himself! I am ready to do anything, anything!”

Suddenly the room lit up with a great white light. I was caught up into an ecstasy which there are no words to describe. It seemed to me, in the mind’s eye, that I was on a mountain and that a wind not of air but of spirit was blowing. And then it burst upon me that I was a free man. Slowly the ecstasy subsided. I lay on the bed, but now for a time I was in another world, a new world of consciousness. All about me and through me there was a wonderful feeling of Presence, and I thought to myself, “So this is the God the preachers!” A great peace stole over me and I thought, “No matter how wrong things seem to be, they are still all right. Things are all right with God and His world.”

Bill W. never drank again…

 

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Farewell T.K.V. Desikachar

TKV Desikachar, the son of legendary T. Krishnamacharya, died today at the age of 78. He is one of the last students from the direct Krishanmacharya lineage, nephew of B.K.S. Iyengar, and founded the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India.

One of his seminal books, The Heart of Yoga, is found in many teacher training programs. One of the best quotes from that book is “The success of Yoga does not lie in our ability to perform postures, but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.”

Desikachar had been suffering from dementia for the past few years and his condition has been largely kept silent by his family. One of Desikachar’s students, Leslie Kaminoff wrote a statement about his condition two years ago in Elephant Journal:

“I lost my teacher years ago not to death, but to an advancing dementia that has turned his healthy body into a prison for a devastated mind. The cause of his condition remains a mystery to me; if his immediate family has knowledge of it, they have not publicly stated so. By writing this I am breaking an unspoken code of silence that has surrounded my teacher’s fate and that of his family.”

The yoga world has had yet another loss today from a long time teacher of another era who has devoted his life to teaching. Many blessings to TKV Desikachar and his surviving family.

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Fictional negative Yelp reviews of yesterday’s yoga masters (humor)

Probably one of the most simultaneously amusing and irritating things for me are when people Yelp yoga studios and trash teachers who have been teaching for decades. People who walk in off the street with no prior yoga experience are suddenly an “expert” on what yoga should provide them. These social media parasites aren’t looking for classical teaching, enlightenment, or any type of discipline. They are just looking for a glorified workout. For lampoon purposes here are some “reviews” from the lens of fictional popular elite yelpers who went back and time and attended a class with the great masters of yesterday. (Disclaimer: these do not reflect the author’s views).

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Ramanashram (Arunanchala, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.42.43 PM Becky “good hair” S.

OMG! I HAD THE MOST NEGATIVE EXPERIENCE OF MY YOGINI LIFE HERE! Just a little about me. I am an advanced yogini who just completed her 200 hour training at Core Fitness Powered Yoga™. Well I get to this ashram and give my donation, and the teacher, this creepy old man (Ramana Maharshi) is just sitting there in a loin cloth staring at me not saying a word…ewwww! Finally I ask him if we are going to do a vinyasa flow and he just keeps asking me “who am I?” I mean WTF!? Can’t you read? My name tag says “Becky.” They wouldn’t even refund my donation!

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Nisargadatta Maharaj (Mumbai, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.56.50 PM Biff B.

As I braved through the crowded streets of Mumbai, I finally made it to this teacher’s class. There are a bunch of people sitting in this guy’s apartment where he teaches and nobody is doing yoga postures. He didn’t even speak English! Good thing he had a translator. He saw I was new and made me come to the front of the room and introduce myself to him and asked me about my yoga practice. I told him I am an advanced teacher at Broga Flow© and I am here to get CE’s for my Yoga Alliance registry. He then blasted me on how my practice only supports my ego and that I am not really my body and if I want to make any progress, I have to imagine myself outside of my body to be greater than the universe. Talk about a total jerk! He didn’t even notice my chiseled six pack abs. Then he did the most unyogic thing I have ever seen in my life: he started smoking cigarettes! Definitely not for the fitness minded. After I told him this, he threw me out! This didn’t even count towards my Yoga Alliance CE hours😦

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Papaji Satsang (Lucknow, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 1.47.17 PM Ashleigh F.

 I would give this place zero stars if Yelp would let me. First of all they don’t accept payment through mindbodyonline.com, so I had to pay in cash. The teacher is some fat old man who just keeps telling people to “keep quiet.” Then he takes people up one by one and tells them that they are “special” or something and then they start cracking up. I mean who can take this guy seriously?! But the real thing that made this a sub par experience is everyone was chanting to Shiva. I mean, talk about being insensitive to people with non-Hindu beliefs!

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Sadhu Yoga (Ujjain, India)

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 2.29.23 PM Anne “RYT” T.

These guys don’t know anything about yoga. All they do is stand around for 20 years with their arm in the air saying “Ram, Ram, Ram…” Talk about boring! One guy just sits on a bed of nails. In my yoga teacher training, my teacher said never sit on anything that could hurt you, and here these guys are just waiting to be injured. Not to mention these guys aren’t wearing any clothes. I have been to a few coed naked yoga classes in NYC, but at least those students had the decency to get dressed before they went out again in public. Plus they were filthy all covered in ashes or something. My YTT told me you always have to be clean when teaching. One more note about this style, is it is only in Sanskrit. I mean c’mon! Don’t they realize all the paying customers speak English! No wonder they can’t afford a studio and have to practice outside…

***

 

Disclaimer (again) these are not actual reviews and not actual people.

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This old Pune belt

After my father-in-law passed away in May, my mother-in-law is now wanting to go to a care home which means we will have to sell our house. My wife and I are surveying this daunting task and were in decision paralysis on where to start. We decided that the first thing to do was start cleaning.

While I was straightening out my “yoga room” I came across an old Pune strap that my mentoring teacher Ray Madigan gave to me many years ago when I first started on my assessment path. Back then the strap was slightly used from the studio. Now, as seen above, it is ripped in half and heavily stained.

It reminded me of my Karate training early in life. When I was young, like 7 or 8 years old, my father enrolled my brother and I in Karate classes. We were given fresh, white belts. The theory with the karate belt system is that as you progress and practice, your belt gets stained. So the progression is white, yellow, green, purple, brown, then black (at least that was our system in the school). The “black belt” is that way because of blood, sweat, tears, and a bit of grass stains over many years of ardent practice.

So as you can see above, I am probably a yellow/green belt in yoga (using the same belt system). Obviously this took far beyond 200 hours which is the current standard of most yoga schools.

Another thing about Pune belts is that they are extremely durable. They are a light weight cotton corduroy, so to break one takes repeated beatings. I am fairly gentle with my props, so the above strap is a product of time, pressure, and repeated use. I remember the day it ripped when I was going between halasana and sarvangasana. It made me a bit sad.

Interestingly enough, I have been studying the second pada of the Yoga Sutras. This week I am focusing on II.11 dhyāna-heyās tad-vṛttayaḥ, or the states of mind produced by these klesas (ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear to death) are eliminated by meditation. Vyasa, a famous commentator, likens removal of kleshas to washing clothes by hand. First you shake the clothing removing the large dirt particles, then you scrub the clothes in soap and beat them against a rock to remove the finer dirt. If the clothes are stained so badly, you burn the garment. As meditation “burns” the seeds of kleshas and samskaras, it purifies the being. I will definitely not burn this stained strap as it is more of a marker of my progress.

As change is the only constant in life, I will be better off in not being attached to my house, or yoga room, or straps and just surrender to what is in front of me. Perhaps the years of hard work it took to get my Pune belt it that condition will help me in this next phase of my adulthood. I wonder how many years it will take me to get a “black belt?”

 

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200th post. Holy cow!

I suppose I have been busy for the past two-and-a-half years. This is my 200th blog entry. When I step back and think that each post is roughly 400 words which is a page-and-a-half, I have easily written the equivalent of a novel (although a very disjointed novel). Like any writer worth his salt, every now and then I go back and re-read my entries. I have to admit there are some posts that make me cringe, but most make me feel satisfied.

There I times when I feel I write about the same thing over and over again. In one of Kofi Busia’s talks, he reflected on his days with BKS Iyengar. He told Guruji “after all your teaching I have concluded that your system can all be boiled down to ‘legs straight, arms straight, spine straight.’ He then granted me with an advanced certificate.” As any good Iyengar practitioner knows, that is the general rule, but it is far more nuanced in how you get your arms, legs and spine straight. In a way, that is how I feel about my writing and this blog.

One other aspect about my blog I have noticed: I am radically changing with this practice. Earlier in my  blog, I wrote heavily on asana and biomechanics. At some point the spiritual side of my practice kicked in and wove its way into my writings. As I am also a mental health counselor, my background and practice with psychology has also found its way into my writing. Also having a recent death in the family has also influenced me quite a bit. I don’t consider myself an activist, but some of my posts are downright militant! I do notice I am passionate about defending yoga and the Iyengar style. I do see commercialism as a great obstacle to the evolution of the practice and write at length about that.

In some ways I feel I am a bit of a renegade in the Iyengar community as this is an unsanctioned blog. This is an Iyengar teacher’s perspective and not the Iyengar teachers’ perspective. But my fan base hasn’t complained yet and I have been reposted on the IYNAUS Facebook page many times over, as well as other countries’ Iyengar associations. And I continually get positive feedback from senior teachers all over the globe. So I must be doing something right.

I think we are all born with a siddhi, or spiritual power. As I peel away the layers, I think one of my siddhi-s is my ability to write. I never plan to write these posts, they just come to me at whatever time. After 15 minutes the words just get vomited out of my fingers without any real sense of doership on my part. I wonder if others have the same experience.

I am almost afraid to admit that I have other writing projects. One of them is the Sutra Discussion on reddit. As I am hopefully going to be ready to go up for my Junior Intermediate I certification next year, I feel I need to know the concepts in the first two pada-s on an in depth level. I read sutras daily and think about them. I feel this has been another catalyst in how my practice has transformed me. I like how reddit allows others regardless of their level of experience to discuss the sutras. I feel they are accessible for anyone who wants to go a little deeper and not as esoteric and unaccessible to the modern practitioner as some theorists purport.

As I have written before, I don’t have any great ambitions to be a writer and don’t plan on teaching yoga as a living any time soon. My work as a mental health counselor provides me a sufficient income, and jives nicely with my teaching schedule. Thank you for reading my rants, and may you stick around for my next 200 posts.