Monthly Archives: June 2016

An afternoon with Bharadvaja and Matsyendra

After work I had a bit of time for practice this afternoon. I have been subbing heavily and taught eight classes this past week! Needless to say my personal practice has been neglected. Partly because of lack of time and partly because of sheer exhaustion. I absolutely love teaching, but it takes a lot of energy to do that many classes coupled with a full time job and family duties.

As I approached my mat, I wanted to work steadily and not strenuously. After supta padangusthasana, I was inspired to do twists. I started light, with Bharadvajasana I which is a simple upper back twist. I then remembered one of Laurie Blakeney’s classes where she spent 45 minutes on Jatara Parivartinasana, and thought I would have a similar practice with one or two twisting poses.

I haven’t done much Bharavajasana II since my assessment and not sure why. I remember it was one of my most challenging poses as I could only grasp the foot on one side and not the other. After trying it I realized I cannot grasp either foot now. So I went back and forth between the two sides using a strap around the foot. While I was preparing for my assessment, I neglected to notice how nice Bharavajasana II is for the hips and lower back. Even though I ended never finding my foot, the going back and forth was a satisfying practice. Below is Faeq Biria’s flawless pose.

faeq bv 2

I then kneaded Ardha Matseyandrasana into the mix. That is another challenging twist for me. I aspire to have a pose like Birjoo Mehta as he has a similar build than me and can easily negotiate the pose with a few choice props.

birjoo ardha matseyadrasana

I can’t even get my hand to the knee, so I use a strap around my front foot and hold that.

The nice part of ardha matseyandrasana is it gives a strong spine twist complete with “cracking.” It reportedly does wonders for the gastric region as well.

I found that the constant repetition for one hour in these two poses (sometimes one after another, and sometimes two times each) and losing track of how many I have done, I sensed that tato dvandvānabhighātaḥ state mentioned in the sutras where one is not concerned about the dualities. It didn’t matter if I caught my foot in either poses, just the practice was enough to reach the mental state.

It is interesting to note that Bharadvaja, of whom the asana is named, was one of the authors of the Rg Veda which is one of the world’s oldest texts (1700-1100 BC). He was considered a rishi who attained extraordinary scholarship and had a powerful meditative practice. Very fitting that studying and reaching a peaceful state can both be achieved in the pose dedicated to him.

 

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Sunday backbends

Today was a nice day to reclaim part of my practice as I have been subbing heavily for my mentoring teachers who are teaching in China. During my own teacher training years ago, my mentoring teacher Ray said that a teacher gives up part of his practice for his students. I understand how true that is as time studying to prepare for weekly classes cuts into one’s one personal sadhana. But that is the sadhana of a teacher.

This is “backbend week” (save Tuesday’s forward bend sequence for International Yoga Day), and I am working on a sequence and modifications for one of my students who has a wrist injury and another student who gets severe headaches after backends. I am grateful for Guruji’s innovations to accommodate injuries and medical conditions of all kinds.

Because of the body I have been given, backbends come fairly easily for me. It has been a blessing as I see how other struggle with this clan of poses. Because of that, I don’t practice backbends as often as other clans which I truly struggle with–namely twisting poses.

But today I cut loose and did a few cycles of Urdvha Dhanurasana at the wall. I am nursing a shoulder injury which I attribute to my sedentary desk job and hours of driving. Today, my shoulder cooperated and and gave me the freedom to push up into the classic  pose.

I have heard that injuries are a blessing for a teacher as they make one think of how to practice around it and then utilize actions that benefit and heal it. That gives much potency to one’s teaching to another student who has a similar injury. My left shoulder struggles in Gomukhasana due to a pinched nerve. But the more I work on other actions, the Gomukhasna eventually comes.

When one delves into the deeper yogic philosophy, we see that we have many sheaths of our being and that the physical body is only part of it. I find it a bit humorous that it is referred to as the “food” layer (annamayakosa) and is the most transient layer of who we really are. It is always changing.

Home practice is a charming endeavor. In between poses, my wife calls and asks me to find some cabinet clips. Being a husband is my first duty, so I help. Then back to practice. I read a few pages of Light On Yoga here, google a few photos there, then try something new. I fail, then re-check the picture, then redo. It is like doing homework with your own  body.

Home practice feels comfortable and satisfying. I am now grounded and recharged for the hectic week ahead…

 

 

Message from Geeta-ji

This came straight from the institute (RIMYI) regarding International Yoga Day on Tuesday June 21:

 

A Theme for Your Practice

In his early days, Guruji used to practice and teach forward extensions on Tuesdays.
Forward extension asanas: Janu Sirsasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana, Adho Mukha Upavistha Konasana, Paschimittanasana, Krounchasana, Kurmasana etc.
Then the Eka Pada Sirsasana cycle: Eka Pada Sirsasana, Skandasana, Bhairavasana, Kala Bhairvasana, Chakorasana, Durvasasana, Ruchikasana, Yoga Nidrasana etc.
Finally ending with the twisting asanas such as Bharadvajasana, Marichyasana III, Ardha Matsyendrasana, Pasasana.

He would do the forward extensions for 2 to 3 minutes on each side and stay for as long as
10 minutes in Paschimottanasana.

This will be the theme for our practice on yoga day this year. Let us do asanas from this
category according to our level of practice and ability.

…Below is from IYNAUS….

RIMYI also advised us that “As regards the other events, we can open out our centres for new students to experience a class of Iyengar Yoga. This would mean following the simple asanas as listed out last year from the Preliminary Course. We can also show a film/video of Guruji’s practice, talks, teaching as that is ever inspiring.”

For those of you who would like to take up the suggestion of following a forward extending sequence suitable for early and intermediate level students, we offer the following sequence as an option. Please use any modifications you are familiar with that are suitable to your condition.
Adho Mukha Virasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Uttanasana
[If you have a regular practice of inverted poses, add those here.]
Paschimottanasana, feet apart
Janu Sirsasana
Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana
Marichyasana I twisting
Marichyasana I forward bending
Paschimottanasana feet together
Upavistha Konasana
Bharadvajasana I
Marichyasana III
Ardha Matsyendrasana I
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Supta Baddha Konasana
Savasana

iyengar paschimottanasna

 

Be well, and best wishes for International Yoga Day 2016.

 

Observing the “led” gym yoga class

My non-yoga day job requires me to travel all around the island for various reasons, and one of my clients asked to meet at the neighborhood corporate gym.

While waiting for the appointment, I noticed a yoga class in the adjacent area from the lobby. My “yogaspy” friend Luci would have had a field day with this opportunity, so I took it upon myself to snap a few pictures.

I normally ignore yoga in these type of environments because I just end up getting upset. But out of my peripheral vision, I kept noticing an elderly student at the back of class bending her knee outside the plane of her foot and then getting back up quickly wincing in pain. The class was doing Utthita Parsvakonasana (or some variation of it).

24 yoga

As you can see, the subject in green has a bad bend in her knee and her foot (which you can’t see) is like the student behind her. That spells major trouble for knee and hip joints. To see correct alignment, see my post.

I went to see what the teacher was doing. The youngish teacher had her back to the class doing her “own practice” while others were just trying to follow along. She was miles away from the elderly student in all aspects. Music was blasting.

A recent study came out stating over 36 million Americans are practicing yoga in 2016, but my inkling is that the majority are practicing under this type of “gym/fitness” level of instruction.

I have colleagues who are Iyengar Certified teachers who used to teach at this gym many years ago, but were told they had to conform to the corporate guidelines for teaching, take a weekend class on how to do so, and abandon their own “style” of teaching. In their ethics, they found teaching positions elsewhere.

This class was packed with over 40 students. And it seemed like they were all doing their own thing. As a teacher, I watch feet in standing poses. That is where 90 percent of problems begin in the pose. All the students’ feet in this class were all over the place. Torsos even more akimbo.

There is a vast difference between “teaching” a class and “leading” a class. “Leading” a class results in the above type scenario, and probably a lot of undocumented injuries. “Teaching” a class means you watch students and make adjustments before the injury-prone action takes place.

The fitness industry is capitalizing on Yoga as a cash cow. If it wants to continue doing this, it could at least show its instructors how to teach!

 

 

Luke’s final farewell

Today was Luke’s service at Hawai’i State Veteran’s Cemetery in Kane’ohe. It was brief and to the point, just the way he would have wanted it. Since he served many years in the military, he received a full honor guard detail including a 21 gun salute.

IMG_1973

Among Luke’s accomplishments in service: he enrolled in the National Guard at 14 years old, was fully enlisted at 16. He served in Europe, Korea, Vietnam, and the Middle East. He was a Green Beret. Among his decorations: The National Defense Service Medal, Combat Medical Badge, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, Republic of Vietnam Honorary Jump Wings, Soldiers Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Bronze Star Medal (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), Good Conduct Medal (5 Awards), Army Commmendation Medal (1st Oak Leaf Cluster), Bronze Star (2nd Oak Leaf Cluster), Purple Heart, and Republic of China Taiwan Rough Terrain Parachute Badge.

Once he retired he got his Bachelor’s of Nursing Degree  at Hawaii Loa (Now Hawaii Pacific University) and became a labor and delivery nurse. He delivered babies from 1990 to 1999.

For me, the biggest piece of his resume does not have a medal. He took diligent care of his wife Toshiko after her stroke in 1997 and attended to all of her needs up until a week of his passing.

FullSizeRender-17

Rest in peace, Luke.

 

Prashantji’s random problem generator

While we were all sleeping, Prashant Iyengar has emerged into cyberspace. He now has his own Facebook page and on it there are plenty of his teaching gems. As his students know, he takes words and turns them into a literal “sri yantra” of multiple meanings, mind-blowing statements, and just pure poetry regarding practice. He has teamed up with his nephew Shrineet to create “Prashnayantra: a Yogasana Problem Statement Generator.

Prashant says that in this simple app, “teachers may use these problem statements for their own study from a teaching point of view, or even just to help come up with a topic to cover in their next class; classes could use this to put up on a ‘ Thought for the Week ‘ type notice board; It’d be great to have a community of students that work on these problem statements, share their notes, and learn together. Maybe an online community too.”

For me, clicking on the “Get me a problem statement” tab is like opening a fortune cookie with penetrative statements and queries to take into my personal practice, or when designing a class theme. Here are a few of the “problem statements”:

Pay attention to Breath with a Consonant Soundform and an associated vowel (a, aa, i, ee, u, oo, ae, ai, o, au) Inhalation first in Back Bends, and then again in Sarvangasana. Study the key differences between the two cases 

Closely study the impact and tuning of weight/gravity distribution, in Prasarita Padottanasana

Study turning the Eye-sense inward, when doing Trikonasana

One can do a whole month of practice around these concepts, and these are just a small sampling.

I have been using some of these statements in my personal practice. When practicing and meditating on these concepts much like contemplating a Buddhist Koan, many subtle answers are revealed.

My mentoring teacher was generous to lend me his audio courses from Prashantji, and I have to say my practice has never been the same. The interesting thing about Prashant’s teaching is that he does not really correct poses or give any major instructions. His teaching comes when the student is in the pose. Then he gives a whole discourse on body-mind-breath, subtle body phenomena, and esoteric physiology. In essence, his teaching is beyond the annamayakosa, and more into the prana/mano/vijnana/anandamayakosa layers of instruction. That doesn’t mean he tolerates sloppy asana-s. He expects them to be near perfection when taking his classes, so he can move on to the higher teachings.

I have often touted Prashantji’s classic “Alpha and Omega of Trikonasana” as a deeper way to approach “simple” poses. He takes trikonasana and moves through all the different layers, chakras, physical points of emphasis and beyond. In the end, no asana is simple.

All above “problem statements” courtesy of Prashnayantra http://prashnayantra.appspot.com