BKS Iyengar was awarded the Padma Vibhushan Award at a presidential ceremony over the weekend. He was recognized for his work in yoga. This is India’s second highest civilian award. Other award recipients have included Zubin Metha who conducted the Three Tenors in the famous Dodger’s Stadium performance, and writer Ruskin Bond. BKS Iyengar remains a foremost name in yoga. He took yoga from obscurity and made it accessible to thousands worldwide. At 95 years old, Iyengar continues to practice yoga three hours daily. There are certified Iyengar teachers in over 80 countries worldwide including Yemen, Iran, and Israel’s West bank…areas where yoga is very needed. BKS Iyengar is also a candidate for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
I had been teaching Salamba Sirsasana (supported head pose, or headstand) to one of my students. She had struggled hard to learn the pose, first conquering fear, then strength, then equipoise. Then another barrier came her way. Her ophthalmologist diagnosed her with low tension glaucoma. One of the first things we learn in Iyengar yoga when teaching Salamaba Sirasana is when not to teach it: in cases of high blood pressure, menstruation, and eye problems.
My wife who works as an opthalmic assistant directed me to an article (now deleted) where the author of this study painstakingly measured eye pressure in each of the inverted asanas in the Iyengar method. As expected, Salamba Sirsana is off the charts in terms of high ocular pressure. A major finding is that pressure increases the most during the first minute of the Salamba Sirsasana, then it stabilizes up to 13 minutes mark, then it increases again. This means for those who have eye problems and are wanting to try headstand “just for a little while,” that first minute can be the most damaging to the optic nerve. Here is an article with similar information to the deleted one.
So should people completely omit inversions in their yoga practice if they have eye problems? The answer is “no” as some inversions decrease eye pressure. Conversely, in Viparita Karani (inverted lake posture), the study showed eye pressure actually dropped to levels equal below that of the resting measurement.
I am finding inspiration in the most unlikely places. Here is a Youtube video of an elderly Italian man making homemade tomato sauce the way he learned in Italy as a child. Chef Pasquale Sciarappa starts by cutting and prepping a huge bag of tomatoes and talking about how his family used get up at 4 am and walk to the farm, gather tomatoes, and walk back to town for three hours (this may sound familiar to some of my Ashtanga friends.) He then proceeds to make this beautiful looking thick sauce. He builds a fire in his backyard and heaves a large cauldron of these peeled tomatoes and stirs it with a dowel for three hours. He then painstakingly runs the tomatoes through a hand-cranked separator. He does all of this wearing a pristine white shirt that miraculously stays clean throughout the whole process. This is not so much a “how to” video, than a view of the process it takes to make something magical.
It is clear from his approach to cooking that he has had much discipline growing up. I researched an article about Sciarappa that said he earned his money as a school custodian for many years. At one point in the video, Sciarappa lifts the heavy hot pot onto the flames for the umpteenth time, pauses to catch his breath, looks into the camera and says “Hard work, eh? You wanna good sauce, you gotta sweat. You no sweat…no sauce.”
This man stays true to his culture and labors to keep his tradition alive. There is nothing more real than this man’s cooking. He does everything by hand, and uses natural means to create this sauce. As a result, it has kept him young. Much like yoga, we have to work hard and sweat by adhering to what we have learned from our teachers who have toiled years to learn what they have passed down to us. That way we can stay young like Chef Pasquale!
I called “uncle!” The kind you call when your older brother has you in a wrestling hold when you are a kid. After my cassette tape player broke, I was forced to try learning the yoga sutras via Youtube. Although there are beautiful selections of chants on Youtube, most are so fast that you cannot learn them step by step. I was forced to seek other methods. Since you cannot summon a Sanskrit scholar to sit and teach you like in olden times (at least not without having to travel to India), the next best recourse is an app.
One fellow blogger guided me to Patanjali’s Yogasutra by TKV Desikachar. This sells for about six bucks on iTunes. What sold me on this app is that Desikachar himself said that while this is a good start, this should only be considered a very basic introduction to the sutras. In other words, he is not promising you the moon like other apps.
Desikachar is the son of T. Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya taught both Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar. Desikachar’s daughter Mekhala leads you through the chants. The novel part of learning via the app is the simplicity of just pressing one button to have the chant repeat. I find that it is helpful to listen to the chant 20 times without any other intentions except to listening to the beauty of the line. Then I try to repeat parts.
This app has two speeds: classical and simplified. The simplified is slower and breaks each sutra into easily digestible parts. The app also lays out the Padas (chapters) in an easy to access format.
The few downsides to this app are that Mekhala’s voice can be a bit adolescent sounding and that starts to be an issue after repeating a line many times. It would have been nice if TKV Desikachar would have chanted them himself. Also, the verses are written in one straight unbroken line, so it is difficult to read along when you chant.
Three weeks into my sutra study, I am on line 8. I am continuing to enjoy this learning process. Thank you Swtspontaneous for the tip!!