Monthly Archives: February 2016

What are you selling?

I have a bad habit of teaching Yoga to my coworkers at whatever job I get. Even though I resolute not to impose my “values” on to others, it always starts the same way. I get through my probationary period, identify times and and spaces where I can take short “yoga breaks,” then I start bringing a few props to work and practice. And then the whole thing goes to pot–someone asks me if I know of  “stretch” that will help their back, ankle, arm, etc.

I teach them a stretch. They get better. They tell others, then there is a line outside my cubicle. Adios lunches! Then everyone decides a “time” when I can teach them. First there are a few students, then half dozen, then most of the staff. No matter what job I get, some version of this phenomenon is inevitable. I even had one job where I taught the clients during a group therapy session. Like a good yoga teacher, I don’t turn anyone away, and try to grow the practice.

There are real challenges to teaching yoga to your coworkers. Boundaries are the first category. Your role changes from supervisee to instructor. It can be quite awkward telling the person who hired you that she is stiff because of stress and needs to stop sitting so many hours without a break. And don’t get me started on how to modify for women who are wearing a dress. I almost never do “hands on” corrections to coworkers unless I know them very well and still try to rely heavily on verbal cues and demonstration.

So to teach correctly, I started bringing more props for everyone to use. So in addition to my laptop, my files in a backpack, I also lug a stack of blankets and a bag of belts up the elevator to work. I must be a spectacle. The other day in the hallway I heard the maintenance woman ask me in her thick Filipino accent “What are you selling mister?” When one has 6 colorful Mexican blankets slung over one’s shoulder, one is just begging to have this question asked to them. So I gave the best answer I could muster at the moment: “I’m selling bliss ma’am, I’m selling bliss.”

 

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Birthday musings

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I just celebrated a birthday and my mom who is a burgeoning water color artist painted this colorful and thoughtful card. Her subject’s adho mukha svanasana is wonderful! Heels on the floor and everything (way better than my pose).

When one is as old as I am, one starts to think about their life in perspective. Just to kick start things a notch, my brother who is about 9 years younger than me announced at my birthday dinner that he and his girlfriend are expecting. My mom was thrilled as my older brother and I have not followed through on producing offspring. Glad he was up for the job!

This year I am training (for lack of a better word) for my Junior Intermediate I assessment. My family continues to support me although it must seem like a strange aspiration to them. From my perspective, Yoga has made me rich beyond my wildest dreams, even though I take home a few hundred dollars per month from actually teaching. No I am not endorsed by Nike, nor do I sell yoga products MLM style, and I don’t even dare say I am ready to conduct a teacher training as I am still very much a student myself after 17 ardent years of practice.

I am rich because Yoga has allowed me the strength to hold down what most people would consider an emotionally draining job as a licensed mental health clinician with ease. Yoga gave me so much material to write about when I was getting my master’s in counseling many years ago that I graduated with a 4.0. Yoga keeps me calm and pleasant for my family and gives me the patience to handle aging in-laws who need more and more care giving. And finally, Yoga allows me to be a good husband to my wife by emotionally supporting her when she has stress from her family and career. She also supports me too in every way.

Yoga has also given me a wonderful community of friends, students and teachers who help guide me on my way. In the next few months, I will be blessed by visiting teachers like Laurie Blakeney and Kofi Busia who always give me more perspectives. I am also continually blessed by my teachers Ray and Shelley who are more like family to me than instructors. In these days of the internet, human connection is actually becoming scarce and rare. Yoga has spared me from that by giving me a well-peopled day.

Prashant Iyengar says that Yoga produces many gifts. The gifts of health and peace are just the tip of the iceberg. So even if I continue my whole yoga teaching career with only a few hundred dollars per month of take home pay, I will easily retire a millionaire. Happy birthday to me.

Flowers for my teacher

I am subbing for my teachers more frequently. They are regularly traveling to China to do yoga teacher trainings, and are now doing their own teacher training in La Mesa, Calif. When they travel, I try to help them out as much I can. This nice thing about the Iyengar community at my studio is that we all “grew up together” since the studio began the mid 2000s. Many of us recognize each other on the street on a first name basis. So when I sub, I don’t have to reinvent the wheel about who I am and what I’m doing there.

On a night last week, one of the Intermediate students brought a large bunch of Narcisssus flowers to my teacher for Chinese New Year’s which is a big deal in Hawai’i. I suppose he didn’t get the memo that she was traveling. He looked sad and said that the flowers would surely die if not attended to properly. He said they are finicky and the water needs to be changed daily. And they prefer cold water.

When one subs, one has to take on all the studio’s responsibilities to the best of one’s ability. So I did what any other good sub would do and take the flowers home to take care of them until my teacher for whom they were attended returns. I also recruited my mother-in-law help me. She had a stroke back in her 50s, but loves flowers. And these are beautiful from the daffodil family, they seem to brighten her day a bit. They also have a delicate and fresh fragrance.

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So hopefully I don’t destroy these flowers before she gets back week. Yoga subbing is the labor of love…

 

 

The concept of “absorption” in Yoga

oḿ ity ekākṣaraḿ brahma
vyāharan mām anusmaran
yaḥ prayāti tyajan dehaḿ
sa yāti paramāḿ gatim (Bhagavad Gita 8.13)

I have a student who is a retired chemistry professor. He also knows a great deal about science in general. One day after class he told me that when you look at the night sky, the stars you see are the light emitted tens of thousands of years ago, and the nanosecond the light hits your eye, it “absorbs” into you. The light becomes you.

On a somewhat unrelated note, I do a great deal of counseling in my profession. I talk to people who have severe depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems. Often times, I am the last person they want to talk to and treat me accordingly. I often hear angry words directed at me. I absorb their angry words.

In recorded talks from Prashant Iyengar, he outlines the basic foundations of Laya and Nada yogas, or the yoga of absorption and the yoga of sound. He relays a major tenet in Vedantic thought, that the universe began with OM, and that the universe will dissolve in OM.

In the talks he says that feelings and emotions can be absorbed in mind, then the mind can be absorbed in Prana, and Prana can be absorbed in Laya. In Nada Yoga, mantras are used to create a vibrational field around the seer which will eventually dissolve in OM.

He talks about the chakras, or energy centers of the body. He says the animalistic tendencies can be absorbed in the Muladhara (root chakra). The ego can be absorbed in the Svadisthana (sacral chakra). The passions and fires of lust, anger, greed, attachment and pride can be absorbed in the Manipuraka (gastric chakra). The sorrows can be absorbed in the Anahata (heart chakra). The bad thoughts and speech and be absorbed in the Vishudda (Throat chakra). And finally, the Ajna (third eye) absorbs OM and dissolves the mind.

As I am maturing in my practice, I am starting to see the value in this concept of absorption. Yoga gives us an opportunity to filter out all the unpleasantries of daily life through our practice. We absorb them, and then dissolve them.

How does this apply to the lay practitioner who only does asanas? My feeling lately is that Yoga is sneaky. While you think you are only doing Asanas, all the other systems are getting worked as well outside of your consciousness.

For example, Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulder stand) has a large influence around the Vishudda chakra. The throat region. How are we to know that in addition to the physical benefits of the pose, all of our bad thoughts are getting filtered out through this chakra? The same thing can be said about animalistic tendencies being filtered through standing poses.

Think about how you feel after back bends. You feel charged and sorrowless. Ustrasana, or camel pose expands and lifts your Anahata, or heart region…the region which filters out the sorrows.

And lastly, Savasana, which is said to correspond with akasha or space, makes one feel restored and fresh. It comes at the end our asana practice and absorbs all the practice.

As BKS Iyengar taught, all of the yogic philosophy can be transmitted through asana practice. It is our job as practitioners to be aware of it.

Translation of the above verse:

After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality and quits his body, he will certainly reach the highest spiritual plane.