Belated happy new year and garden update

Happy 2020 everyone! Not a whole lot of pleasant news around the world of late, so I thought I would buck the trend and show you how my garden is doing. My dog Kinako likes to “assist” me by digging random holes in the yard. During a recent play date with our neighbor’s dog, the two managed to dig a hole deep enough to plant a Hawaiian Ti leaf plant! The two dug a hole on the very most Eastern spot in the yard. As the East is auspicious, I took it as a sign to plant something that has deep significance to the Hawaiian culture. Ti leaf plants have tremendous powerful import. During the volcano eruptions last year, people would put Ti leaves in the path of the lava flow in efforts to appease Madame Pele. Having a Ti plant in the East part of the yard will bring protection and prosperity in the new year.

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The man who cut our lawn retired this year and we hired a new person based on his recommendation. The new lawn service man did a terrific job, but also mowed over my whole garden! I couldn’t be mad because I did not direct him otherwise. When I saw all of my plants leveled, I “rage planted” the rest of my seeds. As a result, I have had a tremendous okra harvest this year. I grow both the green and burgundy varieties which makes for a whimsical harvest.

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Our next door neighbor had to go to a care home as she was in her 90s and could not live independently anymore. Her late husband was an avid gardener and their whole property was lush with vegetation. Her son is renovating the property and took out all the plants. As a result, somehow a lot of the seeds from their property have migrated over to our yard. One day I saw a random bitter melon plant, tomato, and chili pepper growing. These are plants that I have grown myself, so I let them go. About two months later a large portion of my wall is covered with bitter melon leaves that trellis up wild tomato plants mixed in with peppers. This whole wall is edible! I didn’t lift a finger for this to happen and am letting mother nature do all the work.

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Between letting dogs do the digging, my neighbor’s plants doing the sowing, and mother nature to the tending, I suppose my job is just to enjoy the process and harvest when ready! Have a happy new year!

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Invocation to Patanjali for beginning students?

In this morning’s class, one student brought printed out words to the Invocation to Patanjali she found on the internet because she wanted to learn the chant.  She distributed copies for all the students. Unfortunately, she ended just printing out the first few lines and cut off a word. We already have printed versions of the whole chant at the studio in laminated cards, but I don’t pass them out. I simply chant when the clock hits seven am.

She asked why don’t I pass out the words? That is a question I ask myself often, but here is what the “words” look like:

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They are a bit intimidating for the beginner. Especially at 7 am. In my best voice I chant the words. It is call and response. This is how I always start the class.

Yoga is an oral tradition. This is how it has been taught from a long time ago. People didn’t learn with laminated cards with phonetic spellings. They learned from simple call and response.

There is much more to it than that. The invocation is a skillfully concealed pranayama. You don’t read a pranayama. You breathe it. It is the use of sound to unify the class from the beginning. It gets us on the same “page.”

It is a metaphysical chant. The sound forms purify the nadi-s and spin the wheels of the chakras. The chant generates a field around the student to allow absorption of the teachings.

So perhaps next class I will pass out the laminated copies to compare the experience. You never know, they might just “learn” the chant that way…

 

On a happy note, today marks Iyengar Home Practice’s sixth anniversary. Hopefully there will be many more.

Sometimes Savasana is all you need

I taught a nice class this morning. Five of my regular students showed and it is “standing pose week.” We went through some standard standing postures: adhomukha svanasana, utthita trikonasana/parsvakonasana, vira II, ardha chandrasasna, and prasarita padottanasana. We went through some not so standard variations of utthita hasta padangusthasana with a chair and rope wall. I even threw in a rare salamba sarvangasana for a basic level class using the wall in lieu of chair and omitting halasana.

Standing poses demand a certain rigor that the other poses do not. Because you are on your feet most of the time you can push a bit harder. As we are transitioning to the damp rainy season in Hawai’i, the standing poses offset stiff joints that accompany wetter weather.

After the last active pose, I settled the class into savansana. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my students peer in the door. She had thought it was Friday and came for the class taught at that time. She seemed disoriented. In my hush voice, I had her come in and at least do the savasana with the class. After all, she commuted to class from wherever she lives and made the effort to suit up. She reluctantly agreed.

I gave her a nice savasana set up I learned from my mentor Ray many years ago. A “mini” setu-bandha setup with two blankets set long to go under the spine so there is a subtle chest opening more than you’d just get lying on the floor.

I always to a 10 minute savasana no matter what. Most people don’t take that much time in their lives just to commit to doing nothing. I feel it is important with our stressed out society.

After class that student came up to me and said that she had been on the East Coast (six hour time difference than Hawai’i) and was so jet lagged, she thought it was Friday. She said she was stressed because she was preparing for a conference call. The relief on her face was markedly different from when I saw her stressfully peering into class just 10 minutes before. Everything was okay for her now and she could enjoy her day she was “given” by realizing it was Thursday.

Sometimes savasana is all you need….

Catching up with Navratri

Autumn is young, and that means we are smack in the middle of a wonderful semi-annual Indian tradition called Navratri (nine nights). In late September or early October, manifestations of Durga in celebrated each of the nine nights. As India Standard Time about a day and half different that where I am, I have to guesstimate which “night” is the correct one for each Durga manifestation.

This year Navratri started on September 29th. The first night celebrates Durga manifestation Shailputri who symbolizes the Hamalayas (the rock name “shale” comes from the this). Next is Brahmacharini, celebrated for doing strict tapas, then Chandraghanta who brings peace. The next night is Kushmanda who brings health and wealth. The fifth night is for Skandamata who is the mother of Skanda. One who does puja for her also gets blessings and boons from her son as well. The sixth night is Katyayani who killed the demon Mahishasur and is the first of the “warrior” Durgas. Next is the fierce Kaalratri who wields a bloody sickle. She is also known as Kali Maa and is not to be trifled with. On the eighth night is Mahagauri who had performed austere penance and was covered in soot. After Shiva washed her being pleased with her practice she was a stark white color. On the ninth and last night there is Siddhidatri who is the giver of boons for those who showed devotion during this nine night time period. The very last night is called Dusshera which celebrates Durga’s victory over evil.

My wife and I like to listen to the different mantras of each Durga during the different nights. We may be getting boons as things have been going much more positively for our family lately and our health has improved.

There are much deeper stories of all of these Durga manifestations. StoRyvival, a youtube channel, has wonderful commentary on each of these manifestations of Durga and other Indian traditions. There are also lots of navratri mantras available on youtube as well. Navaratri is twice a year and the other one is during the springtime.

May you get blessings during this time of year!

Jim needs your help

Jim Dillman, long time Iyengar yoga teacher and Vietnam vet, is battling cancer. His friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to assist with his medical bills. In my early days of Iyengar yoga, Jim encouraged me to become a teacher. He has been an inspiration for me because he is a living testament to how yoga can profoundly heal someone and transform them into a force for good. If you have known Jim, or want to help out a wonderful soul, please send him well wishes.

Kinako turns one!

Our beloved Golden Retriever turned one this week! In Hawai’i, the first birthday for kids is a big deal and usually involve parties with scores of friends. My wife and I are those type of dorky dog parents who celebrate such occasions for our pet knowing we will get eye rolls. To celebrate, we dressed her up with a lei and a kids birthday hat. We bought the fancy treats at the fancy dog store and gave them away to all the dog park dogs during our nightly play outing. During her annual vet visit, at sixty pounds she has a clean bill of health. Looking back at the past few years, our family has had some tough breaks, and I can’t help to think that she was brought into our lives by some type of divine intervention.

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When things were really bad, I would often practice the Narasimha mantra. I felt this mantra gave me protection and wisdom to solve impossible dilemmas. At a time when my health was declining and there was a lot of tension, this golden dog manifested out of seemingly nowhere and had encompassed almost all aspects of my family’s life. Shortly after her arrival, my health improved and the tension decreased. Even when she was non-potty trained puppy, she was still brought immense joy to us. Could this be a manifestation of Narasimha’s good will? Let’s just say I still practice the mantra daily.

 

 

 

 

A season of reflection

Hi all! I know it’s been a while. A good friend of mine sent me an email encouraging me to start blogging again. A lot has happened since I last posted both personally and in the US Iyengar community. I felt I needed to sit back and see how things unfolded before jumping into the fray again.

It’s been about a year since I passed my Intermediate Junior I certification. Almost instantly after passing, I was able to relax and just teach the way I wanted to instead worrying about the syllabus. Despite my certification, I prefer to teach basic and raw beginner students. I think I have learned so many modifications trying to get into the Junior I poses, I have applied many of those principles to the simpler poses with nice results.

One thing I have never felt too comfortable with is physically adjusting students. Perhaps it is because of my background in psychology and counseling that I realize people have a lot trauma. Being in an asana can be vulnerable, and to be unexpectedly handled can be like ripping the band aid off an emotional wound.

When I got the notifications that a senior member of our community was ousted for inappropriate adjustments, I felt a jolt. It made me question a lot of things about how we are taught to adjust students in this method. Touching someone is a powerful thing, and can be easily misconstrued. Perhaps that is why I prefer the more basic classes is that many of the asanas don’t require a lot of adjustment if the verbal direction is clear. Long story short, I felt very sad by the news as it put a black mark on this style of teaching which I felt for so many years was peerless.

While all of this was unfolding, I had to sadly give up one of the classes I taught for 16 years because of a road closure that made it difficult for me to get to the class on Saturdays. That, coupled with students who have left the island or became ill left me a little shaken as well. It was almost like having a friend pass away. 

There have been times in the past year I thought about packing it up. I felt like I was going through the motions. My personal practice had deteriorated and my asana ability was crumbling. I was getting fewer students. My health was going downhill as well. I gained weight and my blood pressure was high.  I was constantly exhausted.  Working a full time job and a few side gigs plus yoga classes was taking its toll. And my wife and I are still caregivers for her mom. I saw a doctor who recommended I do a sleep study as my wife said that I snore. As it turns out, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I started using a CPAP machine at night.

Shortly after using the CPAP machine, I felt much better. I didn’t have to take naps every day. My blood pressure improved. And most importantly, my mental clarity started getting sharper again. My weight started to go down as well.

My classes started getting bigger. Now I am starting to get six to nine students when before I was lucky to get four or five per class. I started feeling good about teaching again, and have started back on my personal practice. I have been teaching this particular class for about five years now. I feel close to my students as they have supported me through all the years of getting this certification, my father-in-law passing, and my personal struggles. In short, I am tremendously grateful for my students. At the end of class I chant the Guru Mantra that was taught to us shortly after Guruji’s passing. It is for thanking all of my teachers and my students who as it turns out, are some the greatest teachers of all.

Thanks for the email Sonia!