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!

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The Last Class

This past Saturday I taught my last class at Unity Church of Hawaii after 16 years. Long time students have moved away or gotten on to other things. Low attendance has been making it difficult to break even, despite rent being a nominal $25 per hour.  Towards the end, I wound up paying for most of the class out of my pocket. That was okay as I am gainfully employed.

The real culprit was the closing of a major highway that joined the two sides of the island. The Pali Highway succumbed to a landslide after heavy rains in February. During the week it can be contra flowed, but on weekends it is closed, making my commute to class twice as long.

That being said, my last four students were ones I have had for years. It felt like I was moving away from family. They come from very different walks of life. One woman works for the city and is an anime aficionado who takes care of her mother with dementia. Another is a retired woman who makes elegant Hawaiian clothing, and is the mother of a guitar player in a major rock band. One is an energy consultant who makes cities greener via clean energy policies. And lastly, one is an 85-year-old ophthalmologist who graduated from Harvard Medical School and is the surfing champion in his age division.

There were many more students over the years. Each taught me so much more than I could possibly teach them. I have extended them to join my other classes during the weekday. All have busy schedules. It seems so much of the modern 200 hour yoga trainings these days are designed to pack classes densely as soon as people can click a spot in the next class. But I doubt they train their students for this, letting go.

Now what will I do on Saturday mornings? Sleep in? Or perhaps take the opportunity to further my own yoga practice…

Diploma Dog

After thirteen weeks, our puppy obedience class is over. The class started off with nine dogs and finished with six. Through the course our dogs learned how to heel (walk beside you without tugging the leash), sit, lie down, stay, stand, and recall. They also learned how to socialize with other dogs.

In last week’s final test we were nervous. All that training, all those hours of teaching Kinako how to sit and stay, came to the final moment. I was standing waiting for the judge to start the exam, and Kinako immediately grabbed her leash in her mouth and started dragging me through the course. I could sense the points being docked as she would not let go of the leash and growled at me for resisting her. But what I really heard was the chuckling of the other dog owners. It must have been a funny sight.

The next portion of the test went no better. All of the dog candidates lined up and were asked to sit for two minutes. If your dog got up, you had to leave the ring. After five seconds, Kinako was the first one up! The walk of shame ensued as I led her out. The other dog’s owners were kind and had a sense of humor, stating that Kinako led me through a nice course and that I performed well at her command.

This week was the graduation ceremony. After all that mayhem she still got the pass. In a strange way it reminded me of getting my Junior Intermediate I certification. The important lesson is not to quit, no matter how badly you think you did. We are often our worst critics. As for Kinako, she was just happy to do puppy things with her fellow puppy friends.

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Puppy school

Since the end of January, my wife and I have been taking our dog to obedience classes at a local American Kennel Club program. Evidently there are a lot of schools of thought when it comes to dog training. Some trainings use treats as positive reinforcement. The school that my wife and I joined uses verbal commands only (sound familiar?)

Puppy training reminds me a lot of my days as a teacher training apprentice. With unruly pups you have to use a loud voice and clear commands. As I have a gentle nature, this doesn’t come naturally to me (as it hasn’t for all my years teaching yoga). As a result, our dog isn’t quite at the top of her class. That is okay with my wife and I as we want her to enjoy her puppyhood.

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One day before class we took her early to run her so she wouldn’t have so much energy during class. We unleashed her and threw a tennis ball on the field.  Instead of bringing the ball back, she ran right past us and toward the trainers who were just arriving. The trainers had to restrain the dog until we could catch up to her. My wife and I were duly scolded. “You have to keep your dog on a leash or else something really bad can happen,” the trainers barked. My wife and I silently nodded in shame.

We are not trying to win the Westminster Dog Show with our dog Kinako, we simply want her to stay when she needs to stay, come when she needs to come, and sit when she needs to sit. That is a lot to ask from a six month old puppy.

Our dog doesn’t always sit, but found out by studying us how to open the unlocked sliding screen door. I often joke that she is training us instead of the other way around. She is quite intelligent.

As puppy classes are held late on Wednesday nights, and I teach yoga early Thursday mornings, I have caught myself bluring the two together. The other day in yoga class I asked students to get straps and was amazed at how everyone simply got up and got their prop with one instruction. Realizing I was no longer trying to train a puppy, I had to switch back into my yoga teacher role and demo the pose. I also have to watch myself when someone is doing a correct instruction not to praise them lavishly like I do in puppy classes. I end up praising them anyway.

The dog is a reflection of their owner. Our half obedient pup is a reflection of my training her. But her bubbly Golden Retriever personality has not been blunted in the process. She has a playful side that I don’t every want her to lose. Perhaps accepting your dog as a dog with all its dog flaws is the greatest love you can give.

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This blog hasn’t gone to the dogs yet

Hi everyone! It’s been a busy few months since my wife and I got our puppy Kinako. When we first got her in November she weighed 10 pounds. Now she is clocking in at 50 pounds of Goldern Retriever! That’s a lot of dog. Some have said raising a dog is in many ways harder than raising a baby, as the dog is quite mobile and active even after a few weeks. After the potty training, the teething, the destroying of property, getting spayed, and a few weeks of puppy school, I think our family is now starting to sort things out into less chaos.

I am still teaching and practicing. In fact this past weekend I was lucky enough to sneak away from subbing duties to attend a part of Kofi Busia’s workshop at the East Honolulu Yoga Center. If you have read my other entries about Kofi’s classes, he pretty much gets you settled into a posture and then lectures about a wide range of topics that somehow relate to the asana you are doing.

He compared the design of a hammer to that of a mallet and cited the obvious refinement of the hammer design to that of the clunky mallet. He spoke of the designer of the modern weighted hammer, a blacksmith who was only interested in refining the design of an established tool. I was too busy maintaining my dandasana to get the name of the inventor who Kofi mentioned several times. But after thinking about it after class, it is an obvious parallel to BKS Iyengar who saw the asanas that was being practiced, and refined them to be more impactful. There were a lot of other deeper gems from the workshop, but that was the only one my mind had clung to.

From that small dissertation, I was inspired in many ways not just about yoga, but about other aspects of my life. The common thread is that the hammer designer, the ice axe designer, the golf club designer, and Iyengar all saw what was hiding in plain sight and refined it to paradigm shifting usefulness.

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The garden is still going well. Above are Meyer lemon blossoms which will lead to fruit late this year. Gardening with a dog is challenging. Especially given her predilection for flower pots (the kind with flowers still in them). They are by far her favorite toys probably due to their destructiveness when hurled against things. You learn to not get too attached to your favorite plants. I’ve had to install fencing around parts of my garden to keep her out. Sometimes I’ll see a plant missing and dug up, only to find its rooty shreds underneath my blanket along with a flower pot just before bedtime. I can’t get mad, it’s some twisted form of a love offering. I can honestly say I haven’t had a matching pair of socks since getting the dog. Sometimes I find a long lost argyle when watering my basil. I haven’t laughed this hard at personal loss in a long time.

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Bitter melon, daikon, basil in a mulch of grass. Probably a few socks in there too.

Happy New Year!

Om Gam Ganapataye Namah

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi

Om bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥtatsaviturvareṇyaṃbhargo devasyadhīmahidhiyo yo naḥ prachodayāt

May 2019 be a year that brings wisdom, peacefulness, and light to the darkness of our ignorance for all of us.

I look forward this prosperous new year.

Many blessings!

One hell of a year

As 2018 is quickly drying up, I have a minute to sit and look back at this dense 365 day cycle that has been a doozy. Very early in the year we had a false missile alert scare, for a good part of this year I was not sure my place of employment would have its contract renewed, we had a hurricane threat to the point where I had to board up my house, Geeta passed away just two days after her father’s centennial celebrations, and last Sunday my wife had to have an unexpected surgery. Nothing is scarier and lonelier than waiting for a loved one who is under anesthesia. Happily, the procedure went well and she is recovering nicely.

In all of that, I still managed to pass the teaching portion of my Junior I assessment and finally have a nice vacation with my wife. Since her father died, we have not been able to travel because of caregiving duties. Another bright light is my nephew who was born last December. And recently we added a new member to our family, a Golden Retriever puppy named Kinako.

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I have not posted much yoga-related content this year mostly because I wanted to focus all my energy on passing the assessment and secondly because of all the world’s chaos. Now that I am Junior I, I can give some more asana tutorials from asana-s in that syllabus in 2019.

I appreciate all who follow my garden posts too. Watching the teems of life cycles of each of my plants has helped me heal and stay grounded through all of this.

May you all have a blessed holiday season and auspicious new year.

Om shanti