A bit on teaching

I don’t write much about teaching yoga. I find it in many ways a completely different skill set than practicing asana and pranayama. Way back when, my initial motivation to teach was to build community. I always saw my actual 9-to-5 job as the way to make money to subsidize my yoga teaching. To this day, that continues very much to be the case.

Fifteen or so years ago, I took over a teacher’s spot at a church in Honolulu. She taught Saturdays with a “love donation.” The church has since gone through many phases of leadership and I am now required to give 25 dollars for each hour I spend in the room. There are some Saturdays that I have to cough up $10 or so dollars to make up the difference. Other days I have found a crisp $100 bill in my donation bowl and nobody fessing up to it. Just like those statistics professors who sadistically make their students toss a coin and record each outcome to eventually reach .50 of even throws, I feel that somehow I have broken even after 15 years.

It is the not worrying so much if I am making money aspect that has given me students who have stayed with me for many of those 15 years. It is very much more of a community than a class. Most of my students tend to be in their 60s and 70s. Many of the young ones don’t stick around as the next door vinyasa studio gives them what they seek.

For most of my Iyengar training, I have fastidiously developed sequences based on the syllabus that I was learning and wrote them down following them to the letter. That all stopped when I didn’t pass my teaching portion of the Junior Intermediate I last year in LA. After that assessment, I was pretty distraught. I decided then that I should really just see who shows up and what they need and some how fit it into the clan of poses our studio is teaching that week (standing, forward bends, back bends, miscellaneous, and restorative/pranayama).

I feel that is when I started making a lot of connections. If capable students come, I give them challenging poses. If students come who are not used to regular practice, I try to give them something they can learn and practice outside of class. I could not have made it to this process without all the years to writing my sequences down however. Just like one who learns times tables, it has to be something that you can recall by rote if needed.

For now I am relieved and content that I have passed my test. I feel I can get back to the basics again. I recall somewhat resenting in my earlier days the basic-ness of the standing poses we had to learn in Intro I. Now I see that those poses are the true foundation of what I am practicing today and will be throughout my life.

 

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A trip to the Northwest yields great bounty

My wife and I just returned from a trip to the Northwest which included stays in Portland and Seattle. I was in Portland to take my Intermediate Junior I assessment. I’ll tell you about that later. My wife and I fell in love with that city. It is very well planned with excellent public transportation options, cutting edge restaurants, and a vibrant culture.

We then took a road trip from there up to Seattle and did the whole tourist bit including the famous fish market where sellers throw whole salmon around like a football. Originally it was to save time from walking the fish from the ice to the counter. But as it became popular, throwing salmon became it’s own attraction.

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More than anything, this was an important trip for me because it was the first time my wife have been able to travel together in about four years since her father started getting ill and then eventually passing away. Since his passing, we have had to work as caregivers for my mother-in-law. Her brother agreed to take care of her mother while we were able to get away.

We drank up the Seattle highlights including the Chihuly exhibit by the Space Needle. My wife and I are inspired by Chihuly’s works which are massive glass sculptures. This exhibit had a glass blowing demonstration where the exhibitor talked about her journey. She said when she was 15 she asked the local glass blowing artist to learn and he agreed to let her sweep the floors. He would teach her new things every time she came in until she was able to safely create glass art on her own. Now she has a degree in glass blowing and makes her own pieces. As she talked about her apprenticeship I reminded me of the Iyengar teaching process.

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Speaking of which, I retook the teaching portion of the assessment that I did not pass last year. After the first meeting I opened up my envelope and it revealed my sequence. I spent the rest of the night and part of the next day mapping out the actions in the sequence and finding links. I conducted the 40 minute class and finished my last pose right at the buzzer. I like to snap pictures of myself after the assessment because the face tells the tale.

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Later the next day I was getting a coffee at the original Starbucks location in Pike’s Place. I got a buzz on my phone indicating an email. The title said Congratulations! After five hard years of training and personal hardship, I passed my Junior Intermediate I certification.

Shopping for doomsday

One of the few downfalls about being a Hawai’i resident is that between June and November, you are in constant threat of being hit with a hurricane. Last year we had 18 storms coming our way and luckily none hit. When you have a hurricane headed towards the islands, it feels much like the scene in the Matrix where Neo dodge bullets in slow motion. Only we have large ominous “bullets” rolling our way.

When Hurricane Lane started making news last week, my wife and I had the foresight to stock upon some cases of water. I pretty much stopped watching the news after that, dismissing this hurricane like most others that end up pooping out before they reach Hawaiian waters.

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But then I walked by a TV with this image and started to evaluate: do we have enough canned food? Do we have enough toilet paper? As I was buying a few ingredients at the store, I noticed the line was wrapped around the building. Mass hysteria started creeping into the islands as people scramble for water, TP, and provisions. The news that night had warnings that residents should get two weeks worth of food and water.

Wife and I filled up her empty gas tank and headed back to the store. When shopping for a hurricane, it is the opposite of how one shops for healthy food. Big items are high calorie, prepackaged food that requires little preparation and has a long shelf life. A while ago I bought a butane stove with cartridges with the idea of one day cooking at work. Good thing I never got around to it as that happens to be a very handy way to heat food when power and gas are down.

After receiving texts all day from relatives from the mainland I haven’t had contact with for a while, I came to realize that this is a pretty serious situation. Tomorrow I will clean the yard of anything that can go flying at 100 mph and batten down the hatches. A big storms’ a brewin’.

Update: storm came and went and missed our island. I appreciate all the well wishes. Now what do I do with all this hurricane food?

…Four years later

I am writing this bit early, but want to commemorate the fourth year of Guruji’s passing on August 20. Sometimes when am in a conundrum about my teaching and practice, I will find one of Guruji’s videos on Youtube and just listen to him teach. He has very simple and clear instructions, but extremely precise timing on those instructions. Sometimes when I am teaching and feel I am rambling, I think about how simple his instructions would have been for the same concept and it slows me down.

If you listen to his children teach you hear echoes of him. Geeta is very precise. Here she spends several minutes teaching just the base of tadasana. Her translator, Italian Iyengar teacher Gabriella Giubilaro, allows you to absorb the instructions.

Prahsant is different. He says the name of the pose, expects his students to get into it then asks them to use their breath and kriyas to understand Yoga through their embodiment with very little reference to anatomy. In a two hour class he will only teach half a dozen poses. Students stay in the poses as he lectures. There are no videos of his teaching, but here is a lecture he gives about actions and perceptions in asana. This is another side of the coin in Iyengar’s teaching.

As Iyengar’s students, we use asana as a platform to understand the whole of Yoga. Very much like using a boat to cross the river, once Yoga starts to be perceived, asana no longer takes the forefront, but the deeper intelligence which the asanas have taught us.

As stated in my previous post about types of Gurus, the teaching of yoga isn’t so much the same teaching one would receive in a university where a subject is memorized and read about. Yoga is a personal technology which allows one to see his/herself as a manifestation of the whole and how to proceed accordingly in this embodiment in this short physical lifetime. Iyengar was indeed the master of using this method of teaching us yoga.

December 14 will mark Guruji’s 100th birthday. As a mark of this celebration, there is a petition to rename one of his hallmark poses, Uttāna Padma Mayūrāsana to Iyengarāsana. His longtime students overheard him saying he would like this asana to be one that people remember him by.

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Thank you for all you have given us. You are indeed missed.

 

 

 

 

A few thoughts on Guru Purnima

Tonight marks an auspicious evening as the last full moon in July correlates to Guru Purnima (literally Guru “fullness”) has traditionally been a time where sages would provide their wisdom to people for free as a karma practice.

In one of Prashant-ji’s talks, he says that the knowledge the Guru teaches is not from the outside, like a history or science class, but has to stimulate the teaching from the inside of the student. He illustrates 12 different types of gurus in how they teach.

The first type instructs students to go on a pilgrimage to holy sites to attain knowledge. The second type of guru transmits knowledge by being in close proximity the student. The third type is where teacher simply just needs to tell the student to transmit the knowledge. The fourth type graces the student. The fifth is “touchstone” guru where one touch from the guru transmits the knowledge. The sixth is “tortoise” guru, where a mere glance from the guru transmits the knowledge. The moon stone guru is named after a stone where during moonrise, water comes from the stone. In a similar way the guru can remotely teach the student from far away. The next is the mirror guru, where the student sees the guru like a mirror image. The next is the type where if the shadow of the guru falls on the disciple then the student gets the grace. The next is when someone hears just the voice of the guru, then the knowledge occurs. The next guru is one who just thinks of the disciple and then the knowledge comes. The sun stone guru is named after a stone where the sun causes flames to come out of it, similarly this guru’s sight will burn the impurities from the student.

I am about a month away from redoing my assessment from last year, where I passed two portions (demonstrated practice and written test), but did not pass the teaching portion. I have been reviewing my notes over years of training. I reflect on what my teachers have tried to teach me through probably all of the methods mentioned above.

I realized years ago learning yoga is not a linear process. You spend a lot of time on vast plateaus. You even backslide, unable to attain things you used to take for granted. But in losing those, you gain more unimaginable skills.

The guru mantra that was taught to us shortly after Guruji’s passing is one I chant at the end of every class:

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha
Gurur Saakshaat Para Brahma Tasmai Shree Gurave Namaha

I bow to the guru who creates, the guru who sustains, and the guru who destroys. I bow to the guru within, and the guru that pervades the universe.

Many blessings tonight.

Happy International Day of Yoga!

As the summer solstice ushers in this new holiday, try this sequence developed by Geeta Iyengar. She starts the sequence with the invocation to Patanjali.

Tadasana

Namaskarasana

Urdvha Hastasana

Uttanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Uttanasana

Tadasana

Utthita Trikonasana

Utthita Parsvakonasana

Virabhadrasana I

Parivrtta Trikonasana

Parsvottanasana

Prasarita Padottanasana

Dandasana

Janu Sirsasana

Adho Mukha Upavistha Konasana

Virasana/Parvatasana

Swastikasana/Parvatasana

Parsva Dandasana

Bhradvajasana I

Marichyasana III

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Dhanurasana

Ustrasana

Adho Mukha Svanasna

Sirsasana

Sarvangasana

Halasana

Chatuse Padasana

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Savasana

Sit in Dhyana for meditation afterwards

Many blessings on this auspicious day!

 

 

I completed Yale’s “Science of Well-Being” course. Here’s what I learned:

About a month ago, Yale University offered a free online six week course open to the public that studies factors in happiness. As a mental health practitioner, this course taught by professor Laurie Santos was a boon not only to myself and my colleagues, but also helps in approaching people who have psychiatric symptoms in finding outside the box solutions for combating anxiety and depression.

Misconceptions about what make us happy. As she addressed the Yale freshmen class, Professor Santos asked what kind of job would make them happy. Most said that a high paying job would make them happiest. She dispelled this misconception with the statistic that after a household has an annual income of about $75,000, there is no more increase of happiness related to income. Albeit many out there may be far from attaining this figure, it shows that after a certain point money does not equate to happiness.

Also, for those who want what Santos calls “awesome stuff” like a new sports car or house, research shows that while people have a spike in happiness after acquiring these, shortly they return to their baseline level of happiness. That is because of hedonic adaptation, or getting used to something you are happy about. To counter the effect of hedonic adaptation, Santos suggest we need to seek experiences, rather than things, as experiences are terminating, so we never get “used” to being on vacation, or going to a special restaurant, or special yoga event.

There is overwhelming evidence that social media makes us unhappy. Citing numerous studies, Santos delineates that social comparison is a destroyer of self esteem. Often times on Facebook we see our friends and relatives on some exotic vacation or landing some great high paying job. Even though we may have just taken our own vacation, or are happy with our current job, this makes us compare. Even if you perceive your vacation or jobs as better, it still creates disconnection. There is a famous study about olympic medal winners where the gold medalist is the happiest about their achievement, the bronze medalist is almost as happy as the gold medalist, but the silver medalist is much less happy than the other two. This is a result of social comparison.

Kindness, gratitude, and social connection pay huge dividends. One of the studies that stuck out in my mind is a researcher gave someone either $5 or $20 to spend on themselves or someone else if they agreed to follow up with how happy the purchase made them. A large majority just bought themselves a Starbucks and didn’t have much fluctuation in their happiness. However, those who spent the money on others bumped up their feeling of well being by a large percentage. The study was replicated in an underdeveloped country where both of those amounts of money are worth far more. Same results happened which suggests that giving has the same effect cross culturally. People who are socially connected and feel gratitude are also far less susceptible to premature death and psychiatric symptoms.

Meditation works. Sage Patanjali defines yoga as: yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ” or yoga is the cessation of fluctuation of the consciousness. As it turns out, science backs the fact that a wandering mind is a unhappy mind. Professor Santos points out that humans have  the unique ability to think about the future and the past, but thinking too much about the future and the past shows that it makes us less happy according to studies. She cited numerous studies that show that mindful activity helps to offset mind wandering even after the subject was completed with the meditation exercise.

Set yourself up for success. Lastly, Santos taught that people who are trying to achieve a goal should visual attaining the goal and having realistic expectations that if he they don’t meet the goal, then have a secondary plan. She cited a study where people who wanted to lose weight had much more success if they put fruit on the table instead of cookies. Having cereal on the table correlated to the worst outcome as far as weight loss. This show that if we adapt our environment to our goals, they become easier to achieve according to to study.