I’ve been a busy soul of late. My teachers are conducting a teacher training in Beijing and I have been subbing most of their classes. My normal schedule of teaching three classes per week has now mushroomed to eight. That wouldn’t be much if all I did was teach yoga. But in between teaching I have a full time job and caregiving duties.

On my sub days, I teach a 7 am class, go to appointments and hospitals all day, then return to the studio for a 5:15 pm and 6:45 pm class. I don’t get out until 9:00 pm.

As yoga teachers, we are sometimes called to summon great strength and fortitude. To cheerfully face a class of students after a full day of work is difficult. It is not something that is taught in teacher training. It is something that must be cultivated through practice.

I’m finding the hardest part isn’t so much teaching the classes, it’s maintaining my performance at my full time job which requires me to provide mental health services for needy people in the community.

One of my clients is homeless and stays in a bathroom for shelter. I met this client to fill out forms to get help from community resources. As I was leaving the appointment, the client asked me “do you have anything to eat?” I told the client to wait and scrambled to the nearest convenience store and bought a few Spam musubi-s (think sushi, except with Spam) which is a ubiquitous staple of Hawai’i. The client appeared grateful when I returned with the food.  I am finding that these moments give me the strength to carry on this crazy schedule.

Another interesting part of my practice now is I am using mantra-s to help give me energy, offer me protection, and give thanks for my blessings. As I am driving from appointment to appointment and class to class, I recite specific mantra-s. If I know I will be in a potentially dangerous situation, like an inpatient psychiatric hospital setting, I will recite a Durga mantra. For my long drives to the office, I will recite a Ganesh mantra or a Vishnu mantra. If I am feeling tired, I will chant a Hanuman mantra. All give me a special feeling depending what I need. And of course to express my devotion to the divine who has allowed this all to be possible.


Happy Dussehra!

Today is an auspicious day in the Hindu calendar as it marks goddess Durga’s victory over the demon Mahishasura after nine nights and one day of battle. My wife and I were not born into Hindu faith, but we have been observing Navratri for the past two years of the festival. I believe it has helped us withstand the demands we have faced over the past two years with her father’s passing and new caregiving duties of her mother-in-law.

I like how Navratri makes you focus on each aspect of Durga’s shakti. She comes in many forms and all have a distinctly feminine power. She is giving, forbearing, fierce, forgiving, bestowing, and patient among other qualities.

The nice thing about this holiday is it celebrates the feminine as a greater power than masculine. Given the above qualities of Durga’s shakti, this is really true. There are “masculine” mantras and there are “feminine” mantras one can chant. For example the “masculine” ones to Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu are great for a bhakti practice sustained for a long period of time, but the “feminine” mantras contain the shakti that gets things done with quickness and precision. Very much like my wife and me. I like to sit and think about things, but when the decisive action needs to be made, like Durga, my wife gets it done while I’m just watching with a dropped jaw. I think many men would not admit this, but know it’s true about their female partners.

The last manifestation of Durga during Navratri is Siddhidatri, or the one who bestows the eight powers mentioned in the third Pada of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. She is said to have even given Shiva his powers. If one is ardent in one’s practice, siddhi-s are bestowed upon the practitioner.

I find that these festivals and rituals give deep meaning to my yoga practice as they have done for others for centuries. Even simply reading about them ties up a lot of loose ends one may find in studying the Yoga Sutras or Bhagavad Gita. Yoga has such a rich and deep history, to not recognize these other parts of it aside from asana practice limits one’s ability to make these connections. And only practicing one limb gives only one flavor to a practice that is supposed to contain all the flavors of the cornucopia.

Happy Dessehra/Vijayadashami!


A vacation back to my hometown: a photo essay

I took a trip back to my hometown of Albuquerque for vacation this year. I wanted to see my father who has had some health problems in the past few years and my 89 year old Grandmother. It was a bit of a bittersweet trip as my mom who has lived in Hawai’i for 22 years decided to move back to New Mexico recently and was along to search for a new house.


This is my brother David and his wife Von. Von doesn’t like pictures, but I thought this was an adorable picture of them. My brother is a loving husband and a hard worker.


One of the charms of Albuquerque this time of year is that hot air balloons festoon the skies preping for the balloon fiesta in early October. I remember as a child one of these landed in our school yard and they let us all out to see. This was taken from my brother’s front door.


What New Mexico lacks in greenery, it more than makes up for in other colors. Here is the red cliff in the Jemez Pueblo, an Indian (Native American) reservation an hour north of Albuquerque.


No trip to Jemez in complete without Indian fry bread. With a little honey this will put any doughnut to shame. Being fried in pure lard may have something to do with it.

img_1148Jemez Springs is quintessential New Mexico in my opinion. You can see the Spanish Mission influences in the architecture, the cobalt blue skies, and red clay mountains. This is where I spent some special moments in my youth fishing and camping with my parents.


Green chile is a New Mexico staple. Every fall these are roasted in metal drums and the aroma is earthy and otherworldly. I remember in college me and two roommates ate a half a trash bag full of these one afternoon. We suffered, but it was worth it.


This is my dad making enchiladas. In New Mexico, they are stacked with an over easy egg and red chile smothered on top. Red chile is made by drying the above green chiles on “ristras” or hanging chiles which have a dual decoration and culinary usage.


Next day we went shopping in Old Town Albuquerque. Here Native Americans sell there beautiful turquoise and silver jewelry as they have done for years. There is actually a “Romero” street (my last name). Romero is a family name traced back to the Spanish conquistadors in New Mexico 400 years ago.


Here is my mom in an Old Town cafe. Again the colors…


This mercado sells Mexican blankets for a very low price. As well as aisles of colorful pots and other goodies.


These will make a great addition to my yoga props for my students….



Book Review: I Am That, by Nisargadatta Maharaj

I just finished all 531 pages of I Am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj, translated by Maurice Frydman. I started reading it in late May and just finished now in mid-September. Why did it take me so long? It certainly wasn’t that he used complicated words. Any high school student could understand it if they have the patience to decipher some the Sanskrit terminology that can be found in the book’s appendix. It certainly wasn’t long drawn out chapters. The book contains 101 chapters which are two to four pages long. It took me so long because the concepts in the book, when thought about and considered, are among the deepest one may experience.

The book is in the the typical question and answer format one reads in most of the non-dualist genre. Nisargadatta Maharaj gave satsang, or spiritual teachings, based out his Bombay (Mumbai) apartment until his death in 1981. He wasn’t a typical yoga practitioner. He made a living making and selling cigarettes on the street and chain smoked them as he gave his teachings. He liked to argue with his disciples, and would kick them out if he felt they have overstayed their welcome after receiving the essence of his teachings. He only spoke in Marathi, and would employ translators for Westerners.

In all of his eccentricities, his teachings get to the heart of the matter: we are not what we take ourselves to be, we are the very universe itself. He foremost rejects that he is his body which is repeated ad nauseum in this text. He rejects that he is his mind, which he says belongs to the body. “As long as one is burdened with a personality, one is exposed to its idiosyncrasies and habits.” He says he is that which does not change: the purusha. Purusha can be translated as “soul” but Maharaj gives it a much more nuanced and textured meaning throughout his book.

His basic teaching is summed up in this dialogue:

Maharaj: How can an unsteady mind make itself steady? Of course it cannot. It is the nature of the mind to roam about. All you can do is to shift the focus of consciousness beyond the mind.

Questioner: How is it done?

Maharaj: Refuse all thoughts except one: the thought ‘I am’. The mind will rebel in the beginning, but with patience and perseverance it will yield and keep quiet. Once you are quiet, things will begin to happen spontaneously and quite naturally without any interference on your part. (page 17)

This may sound a lot like the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. Maharaj’s teachings are very similar with the exception that Maharaj was not silent the way Ramana Maharshi was (Maharshi said very few words to his devotees). But by using his preferred format of argument, the teachings of Nisargadatta yield more concrete “instructions” that are well suited for the Western mind.

I would recommend this book after one is familiarized with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s, as many of the concepts draw from that classic text. In fact if you struggle with the Sutra-s in terms of how prakriti and purusha interplay, I Am That offers elegant explanations and possible solutions. To read this book properly, I wouldn’t advise taking on more than a chapter a day (3-4 pages), and really think about the words. You won’t be the same after reading it.

Linked below is a pdf of the book, and also a video which can be viewed as a primer to the teachings.



Jupiter’s South Pole…the great mandala

This image just came back from the NASA satellite Juno launched in 2011 to explore Jupiter. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Jupiter from the Voyager missions. It is such a turbulent planet with a toxic gaseous atmosphere and a great storm with winds up to 400 miles per hour. Jupiter’s beauty lies in its turbulence.

It also has many moons among which is Io, a volcanic moon which is a pure firework spouting sulfur hundreds of kilometers into space. That makes it visible from Earth, as Galileo discovered it in the 1600s from the crude astronomical instruments at the time.



I am part of a Hubble Image discussion group on Facebook on which there are serious astronomers. I am just there because I like to see the images from the universe. One scientist in the group commented that he does not like people referencing the spiritual or God when commenting on these images. To me, one can simultaneously be scientifically minded and still view the wonders of the universe as spiritual experience. In fact one who can’t do both is quite limited in my opinion.

As one gets into their yoga practice for several years, one starts to see that they are not separate from anything. The Upanisads say that Brahman is everywhere in the universe. When I see these images, I feel a deep connection, as though I am a part of them in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. The galaxy is full of wonder. Not only with its contents, but with its sheer vastness. The opening mantra of the Isa Upanishad talks about how all is infinite and perfect, and that we are very much a part of that infinity and perfection.

Carl Jung theorized about the archetypes, or images that recur throughout all of humanity. One he was particularly fascinated with was the mandala. One can see forms of mandalas in all religions. From the stained glass at in the Chartres Cathedral, to the dancing pattern in Sufi’s whirling dervishes, to Tibetan sand forms. When one sees the underside of Jupiter, one sees all of these and more.

Each ring in the photograph represents a different “belt” of clouds. Very much like the Earth’s tropics above and below the equator, these belts represent a different direction in which the weather patterns move. When we do twisting asanas like parivrtta trikonasana, our bodies take on this very same phenomenon with different fluids and gases of the body moving in spiraling patterns. When we do pranayama, the air enters our system and heats up immediately. This causes “storms” in our different bodily region and regulates our prana. When done correctly, the weather in our body is harmonious. When done improperly, like Jupiter, our nervous system becomes turbulent. We are not different than the universe. The universe is not different from us.





…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)


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


2 Urdvha Hastasana

urdvha hastasana

3 Urdvha Baddanguliyasana


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)

ac IV

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

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 1.27.00 PM

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

sirsasana iyengar

10 Dandasana

dandasana iyengar

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


Enjoy your practice!