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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.

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Meditation, attitude help man readapt to society after 44 year prison term

This is an Al-Jezeera video of Otis Johnson, a man who spent 44 years in prison. His crime was assaulting a police officer. At this time when there is much rancor in this country about injustice that authority has had on people of color, Mr. Johnson has a different perspective on the matter. He is not angry about his disproportionately long sentence. “Holding on to anger will only stagnate your growth and development,” he says.

For those who are deep into their yoga practice, it is easy to spot that this man is indeed a master. Despite all of his hardship, he is able to see society with fresh eyes and an open heart. He takes great pleasure in the mundane. And he notices how people are now fused together with their electronic devices, but somehow are more “disconnected” than ever.

He enjoys riding on the bus and observing people. Not with any kind of bad intent, but genuine curiosity of what has happened to the world in just about half a century. He wonders how people can walk and talk on the phone without looking where they are going. That is something I wonder about often too especially with the advent of Pokemon Go!

The touching thing to me about this video that is not mentioned is that someone at some point in time taught this man his spiritual practice in prison. It is not clear if he is has a Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, or other faith. It doesn’t matter. Someone taught him a way to peace, he followed that path, and now he bearing the fruit of it in a scary modern world that he was thrust back into.

One of the blogs I follow is Oneika’s Yoga Life. Oneika Mays teaches yoga to women at Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York. Her blog details the lives she touches in her practice, and outlines the challenges many of these women face. It is because of people like Oneika that those who are incarcerated get exposed to practices that can liberate them no matter where they are.

This video brings a sense of sadness and injustice at first. But to see Mr. Johnson interact with what our world has become, somehow you think that he may be one of the few sane people left on the planet.

 

 

aflac commecial

How yoga will survive being commercialized to death

If you could go back 50 years and try to find any resources on yoga as a Westerner, you would probably be confined to the “world religions” section in the public library. After using the dewey decimal system card index, you would probably find some material on Swami Vivekananda, a few obscure academic translations in French or German of the Bhagavad Gita and Yoga Sutra-s and a whole lot of books with the word “Hindoo” in them. My have times changed! I used to get kind of exited when I would see yoga referenced on a TV show, or even an advertisement. Now I don’t think there is ANY ad without some reference to yoga.

For one, communication technology has radically changed in the past 50 years. That makes any idea more accessible. Secondly, the popularity of yoga has increased exponentially with this emerging communication technology. Therefore, it appears as though yoga is everywhere.

But what are people defining as “yoga?” Mostly it’s some type of asana or calisthenics practice. The instagram crowd that saturates your news feed declares that taking a selfie of some contortion in a dangerous location is called “yoga.”

What if today’s technology existed back in the time of Vyasa or Patanjali? What would they “tweet?” My inkling is that they would be more interested in transmitting teachings via audio. They would chant the hymns of the vedas and sutra-s for all to hear in their correct pronunciation. We have to realize that the reason why yoga has been around so long is because it is an oral, not a visual tradition.

The brilliance of the language of Sanskrit is that every character in the Devanagari alphabet is pronounced exactly the same. Unlike the Roman alphabet whose letters can go through a radical range of pronunciations even within small community. The continuity of the Sanskrit alphabet reduces the error in misinterpretation. That is why computer programmers and artificial intelligence science has taken a renewed interest in this ancient language.

In essence, the Veda-s, Upanisad-s, Mantra-s, and Sutra-s are a codified zip drives encapsulated in the indestructible medium of sound. This is a far more sophisticated technology than anything we could invent today. How can you have an infinite amount of information stored in something that does not take up any physical space?

The beauty of these “zip-drives” is that they give every practitioner the instructions based on their level of understanding. That is why no two practitioners are alike, even though they have the same instruction. Our level of understanding and capability has much to do with our own personal karma-s.

So now the fitness/yoga industry is having its current field day exploiting the physical benefits of yoga. But as long as there are practitioners willing to “decode” the ancient texts, and interpret and practice them to their own capabilities, Yoga will last for the rest of humanity. Hopefully, that will last a little bit longer.

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Teaching at a special event

Every now and then I take a the opportunity to teach at special events. Today was the “Plants and Healthy Living” expo at Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu which was set up by my old friend Naomi. You never know what to expect when teaching at an unknown venue, so it is best to keep things simple.

There are so many different types of yoga styles out now, I wanted to find a way to promote Iyengar that showed the subtlest difference with the largest impact. Since this was an outdoor venue, the only props I brought were my bag of Pune straps.

I taught two 30 minute demo classes with a very basic standing pose sequence that can be done in a park setting:

Tadasana/ Urdvha Hastasana

Virabhadrasana I

Utthita Trikonasana

Vrksasana

Swastikasana

I had everyone get a strap and put it around their wrists for the urdvha hastasana action. This creates a dramatic chest profile which is hard to attain without the prop. It was well received by the attendees.

It is not until you teach people with little to no experience that you realize the value of this method. It is step by step and un-intimidating. An attendee approached me afterward and said “I have never seen warrior broken down and taught that way before, I helped me a lot.”

What I appreciate about being a teacher of this style is that instructions are given for each movement in the asana one at a time. This allows the teacher to watch and see if the instructions are taken. I feel this prevents a lot of injuries for one. Secondly, it forces the student to pay attention taking them into a focused state. This in turn shuts down the mind chatter.

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I passed out a few class coupons and schedules at the event to drum up some business. It is best to get students from a grass-roots level instead of mass marketing because you have a deeper sense of connection with them. The one thing I have found out about Iyengar yoga students is they tend to stick around for years once they see the benefits. Thank you Foster Garden for the opportunity to share my practice.

 

John Schumacher & age

I don’t reblog very often, but this post asks some great questions. Thank you Nadia!

the incubator

Some time ago, I was at the Dutch Iyengar association convention for a two-day workshop with John Schumacher. Anytime I meet a senior teacher, I feel deeply grateful for the chance I have to learn from them. It is truly inspirational to meet people who have dedicated their lives to the practice of yoga, sometimes for twice the amount of time I have been living.

photo John Schumacher, certified Advanced Iyengar Yoga teacher

I was talking with several people recently on Iyengar yoga attracting older practitioners; a friend thought it was very cool to see an older lady following a class in a video I was showing him. I found it quite funny, since at the convention I was probably one of the youngest in the room, with an average age I would esteem to be around 50. And yes, everyone gets into headstand/shoulderstand/whatever crazy pose is being taught at…

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juno

Did anything good happen this week on Earth?

While it was a veritable s***storm here on Earth with news I don’t even want to mention, another event happened millions of miles away.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft is has awakened after a long slumber of space travel and starting turning its sensors on to give us more information about Jupiter.

Juno’s nine science instruments were off when the probe entered orbit around the solar system’s largest planet Monday, to reduce complications during that night’s make-or-break orbit-insertion engine burn.

The mission team powered up five of those instruments Wednesday and plans to turn on the other four before the end of the month, NASA officials said. So Juno should be ready to gather some science data when Juno makes its next close pass by the huge planet on Aug. 27. The probe is currently in a 53-day orbit around Jupiter.

The Juno mission launched in August 2011 to help better understand Jupiter’s magnetic and gravitational fields, composition and interior structure — in particular, whether the huge planet harbors a core of heavy elements. It may also provide clues on how our solar system was formed.

On a somewhat related note, a colleague of mine was experiencing stress from one of her clients. We both work at a mental health agency. I shared this video with her to show how small we are relative to the universe. I hope this helps you put things into perspective…especially when now it seems that the world is crumbling below our very feet.

 

 

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An open letter to Yoga Journal regarding booze ad

Before I have posted on the disturbing trend of combining booze with yoga, but now Yoga Journal has taken it to a new low. They are posting an ad for Ty Ku Sake (Japanese rice wine). It shows New York (Tribeca) studio owner Bethany Lyons living the fabricated “yoga dream” by doing her practice, having a vogue-style photo shoot, and then boozing it up with friends. Another ad (linked below) shows yoga studio owner Paige Held actually saying that the yoga sutras link her to drinking booze to put her in a “zen feeling throughout the evening.”

My initial reaction was pure rage. But then I realized that Yoga Journal is not about promoting yoga as any kind of spiritual practice or even health practice for that matter. It is about making money. So here is my open letter:

Dear Yoga Journal,

Bad month in revenues? Who at the board meeting said you should start selling booze to promote sales? Do they practice?  Are times so bad that you have to do whatever it takes to move more magazines?

I understand the majority of your readers are women. So why are you trying to off them by having them be lured into booze after yoga class? Did you not consult the facts? 26,000 women die annually in the US from alcohol-related causes and it is the fourth most preventable cause of death in the US. Fewer women means fewer sales.

Not to mention that a common healing modality in substance abuse treatment centers is yoga. What message is this for the recovery community who is looking for another way out of their suffering?

Yet you promote booze.

The disconnect is obvious for any rational person. Your Facebook page is screaming with comments, none good. In fact I notice your moderators are working full time to delete any “negative” comments from the beloved news feed. From my media background, I get that one strategy to gain viewership is to generate controversy. But like the proverbial shark jumping scene, it is a sign that your publication is more closer to its end than its beginning.

I think that most of your magazine’s viewership does not practice yoga with any seriousness. Because those who are serious about yoga quickly see through the veil of vapidity and commercialism. But that is what makes your marketing strategy ever more sinister. It preys on those who don’t know any better, and who lack the capacity for discernment.

I have come to realize that as long as yoga is tied to the body, it will be tied to commercialism. The yoga I practice views the body in its proper context: as a vehicle for the soul to do its real work–even well after my body’s destiny is exhausted.

Your publication just seems to be making it month to month. So I give you permission to hawk all the booze you want. Why stop there? There are plenty of other drugs big pharma wants to deal to vulnerable ladies who are unsure about themselves. Just don’t be surprised when people start leaving in droves for the next big fad publication.

All that will be remembered was how you sold out to the lowest common denominator. I am therefore imploring all of your readers to cancel their subscriptions and unlike your FB page.

Mahalo,

Michael

video link: https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fyogajournal%2Fvideos%2F10153507341575946%2F&show_text=0&width=560

 

Update: Yoga Journal’s FB page has an “addiction, yoga + recovery” video just a few scrolls down from the Ty Ku ad. It is like they don’t even realize that drinking also is an addiction. Live Be Yoga Tour