Author Archives: yogibattle

About yogibattle

Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher

Finding relief when the world is off its rocker

What is it about September that brings out the worst in world news? We have had hurricanes, bombings, earthquakes, missile tests, hate groups, anniversary of 9/11 attacks, the list goes on. Most days when I don’t have to work early, I buy my mother-in-law breakfast and eat with her. She said this morning in her thick Japanese accent: “I watch scary news! Just like end of the world in Bible.”

I saw my childhood friend last year when I visited Albuquerque. During our catching up, he said that he was always upset for many years and couldn’t figure out why. Then he said one day his car stereo went dead. He was an avid listener of AM radio. He said with the silence, he became noticeably happier. His wife even noticed. Having worked in the news business for six years (that’s all I could take), I noticed too that when I quit the profession, I became remarkably happier.

We live in a world where we can honestly watch news every minute of our waking day and still work and have family life. How many check your Facebook, Twitter, Yelp while doing other things?

Silence is an undervalued commodity. We do not value silence in our culture, in fact it is often abhorred. And we are chronically distracted with devices and social media. I think our habits toward being distracted with electronic media have the same pattern as a fungus that grows. Once it sets its spores, it is hard to get rid of. People are looking for relief.

I came across an interesting article the other day: “Communal Silent Savasana Has Become Las Vegas’ Unlikeliest Craze.” Funny how things come full circle. I have long extolled the virtues of silence in Savasana, but now it is more clear than ever that we need to “steal silence” back from our constant bombardment of electronic media. When I teach yoga to my colleagues at work, I say to them “give yourself permission to relax for 5 minutes” before going into Savasana. I have been told that was the single most soothing thing they have heard all day.

Here is a link to a my tutorial on how to do a proper Savasana. If even that is too much, simply go to a quiet room and lie on your back for 10 minutes when you need to take shelter from our crazy world. It will make all the difference.

Many blessings!

 

 

 

 

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…Three years later

I’m taking time from my busy life to commemorate BKS Iyengar on the third anniversary of his passing. His legacy, his system, and his community continue to thrive as a result of his tireless work in brining yoga from darkness and obscurity to light. It is quite fitting that the solar eclipse falls a day after his death’s anniversary. Like the eclipse, the darkness of his passing is temporary, and provides a different light cast on an ancient tradition which makes it fresh and more intriguing.

Even now that Mr. Iyengar has left this Earth, his influence continues to grow. Even Google has commemorated his accomplishments by giving him an honorary “doodle” on his birthday last year. In this era of gross commercialization in the yoga “industry” the Iyengar community has been steadfast in maintaining its standards and continues to produce high quality teachers.

As for me, I have been preparing for my Junior Intermediate I assessment in November. When one goes up for assessment, it never feels like you have done enough in your practice or your studies to prepare sufficiently.  My mentoring teachers Ray and Shelley have been tremendous in encouraging me during this process. I just have to have faith that I will be ready at that time. My readers won’t probably hear much from me until it is over, so my apologies in advance. I continue to appreciate your readership and will respond to any comments about my posts.

Many blessings!

Simple dinner from my garden

I harvested a few items from my garden recently. My vegetables are so small that they would barely be a mouthful. Look how tiny my eggplant and Roma tomato turned out…

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Since there is no good sense of scale here, the eggplant is roughly the size of a lemon, and the tomato the size of, well you can do the calculations based on the photo. I have a guilty pleasure of viewing Conor Bofin’s site called “One Man’s Meat.” Although I don’t eat that much meat, I like his sense of authentic preparation and photography skills. So I will channel my inner Conor for this blog and attempt to do with veggies what he does with lamb chops.

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Luckily I had a good picking of leaves from a mustard spinach green plant and a few stray basil.

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I chopped up the eggplant (not seen) the tomato and a half a shallot.

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I sautéed the eggplant in a splash of olive oil soon followed by the shallots…

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Then added the mustard-spinach and basil.

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Once reduced in size I added a dash of salt and pepper and a twist of lemon to brighten it all up.

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Voila! About two or three delicious bites.

And a nice mango for dessert given to me by one of the students at my studio. (Thank you Sandy!)

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Then I scarfed a huge bowl of unsightly left over pasta (not seen). Hope I did you justice Conor!

 

 

Sequence as Mantra

It may not be necessary for all yoga practitioners to have a mantra practice. However, I do feel if you are earnest in your practice, you tend to develop one anyway as a consequence. Most Iyengar practitioners have had some exposure to the invocation of Patanjali, which is normally chanted before class. After Iyengar’s passing in 2014, some may have even heard the Guru Mantra which has been added to the end of the Patanjali Invocation.

Iyengar said a curious thing in one of his many writings to the effect that doing asana is like doing japa, or a practice of repeated sound forms or mantra-s. As I am heavily subbing for my teachers this month who are in China doing a teacher training, I have been writing out as many as three times as many sequences to prepare for classes.

Writing a sequence is much like writing an essay, or music composition. It is best to start with a theme. I have been taught to stay within a “clan” of poses or poses of a similar action. For example, standing poses or back bends or abdominal poses. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end to each good sequence. There is also a “sirsasana” and “sarvangasna” in each Iyengar sequence, even though you may do something in lieu of those poses. Typically, dwi pada viparita dandasana is substituted for sirsasana, and setu bandh is substituted for sarvangasana.  I have been studying long enough to see that all rules can be broken, but it is best to stay within logical limits unless there is a deliberate effect you are trying to achieve through the sequence.

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As I utter my daily mantra-s I notice too that they have a logical beginning, middle, and end. Take the Ganesh mantra of Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Most of the times mantra-s begin with the Pranava or OM. Then there is a seed syllable like “Gam.” Then there is a name of the diety Ganapataye.” Then the ending “Namah” which means this is not my “self”  or not my “ego.”

It is said if you utter a mantra enough times, you develop the siddhi of that mantra, or obtain the power that it beholds. Not an easy task. Some mantra-s are said to have be uttered thousands of times before this takes place.

However, if you do a sequence only a few times, you immediately understand its benefits and its limitations. In essence, the “siddhi” of the sequence is revealed to you much sooner than in the mantra practice.

As pictured above, I write my sequences in spiral notebooks and file them away once the book is completed. I have dozens of these filed away through my years of teaching. I like to look in the old ones to see where my practice and teaching have developed, or more importantly how they have stagnated.

Many blessings!

 

 

 

What’s in a name? The subtle differences between Sukhasana and Svastikasana

Before one of H.S. Arun’s classes in this past weekend’s workshop, he mentioned that Sukhasana (happy pose) and Svastikasana (cross pose) were different poses when instructing a student about another topic. Another student asked him “you mean ‘firelog’ pose? He laughed and said “there is no such thing as a firelog pose, that’s made up.” I asked him, “what is the difference between Sukhasana and Svastikasana?” He said “it’s in the feet,” and then moved on without explanation.

In the next day’s class, he built a whole sequence around the two poses. The short of it is that in Sukhasana the feet are passive, in Svasktikasana the feet are active. But there is much more to the story than that.

Student Chris was gracious enough to model these to poses after class today. Here is Sukhasana:

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From this angle you see that the feet are passive.  From this next angle you see what happens to the spine.

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Her left knee is slightly higher than her right which causes a subtle curve in the spine, or as Arun said “it looks like the student has scoliosis.”

Now here is Svastikasana:

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You can see the feet are now active. That gives this corresponding effect to the spine:

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You can see that her knees are now even and her spine is correspondingly straighter.

So should we throw out Sukhasna because it is not as symmetrical? Of course not. One of Sukhasna’s great features is that it is passive, unlike Svastikasana. That makes it more appropriate for chanting the invocation to Patanajali, or reciting mantras as there is a receptive element to the pose.

On a side note, Svasti, or Swasti denotes “well being” in Sanskrit. Unfortunately, the symbol of Swasti was stolen and used as a symbol of hatred, whereas before it was a sacred symbol of both Asian Indian and Native American cultures.

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Definitely not firelog pose!

 

Arun back in the islands

I was lucky enough to attend H.S. Arun’s latest workshop which was just a few blocks away from my house. I have written about Arunji in previous posts. To express the magnitude of what that means for me, imagine if you studied physics and Richard Feynman gives a lecture at your friend’s house who lives nearby. Or if you like cooking and Emeril Lagasse happens to show up at your neighbor’s house and you are invited to a barbecue. For me it’s that a big of a deal!

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This banana tree and rusty Iyengar chair is the entrance to Val Hobensack’s home/outdoor/garage/beach studio. Val was my first Iyengar teacher years ago and still teaches a few classes a week out of her home. She graciously hosted Arun this past weekend.

I am trying to recap a few gems from the workshop. Here are some of the highlights that stuck with me:

  1. Try to emulate Sarvangasana in the pose. If you watch Arun practice, he is always lifting his ribs and taking his chin down. He says he tries to capture the “bhavana” or feeling of Sarvangasana. Not just the shape of the chest, but the internal feeling of that pose.
  2. “Take the twist out of the twist.” He said that is a Prashant quote, but he illustrated it in several of the many twists he taught. For example in Bharadvajasana, he would ask us to take our navel to the left if we were twisting to the right. It was counterintuitive to me, but the more he repeated the instructions throughout the workshop, the more it made sense internally for me in the pose. With my girthy frame, twists have always been a challenge for me. With this instruction they became much more accessible.
  3. Learn to modify poses by practicing one pose for your whole practice that day. Arun said he sometimes practices a pose like Utthita Trikonasana for an hour and a half. I asked him half jokingly if he held it for that long. He said that he will hold for one minute each side, then three minutes, then try a chair, then try a belt, then other props. This is what led him to many of his prop innovations. IMG_2815

Outside the teachings, I had a few before and after class chats with him. We share similar sentiments on the perils of the commercialization of yoga. He said he has much sadness about “beer yoga” and Lululemon’s new “Mula Bandha” underwear which he said he feels disgraces the practice. Arun is on a mission to bring authenticity back to the practice as he literally tours the world teaching. Shortly after the last class, he was on a plane to Seattle en route to Mendocino, Calif. for the next day’s class. Thank you Arunji for the wonderful workshop. I’ll try to post more insights later…

My wife’s green thumb (more like nuclear)

If you have been following my garden escapades, you’ll know that my wife and I have his and hers gardens. While I have been somewhat successful in trying to retrace Masanobu Fukuoka’s method of “do nothing” farming, my wife went straight to the traditional method of spreading soil and planting seeds.

I have struggled mightily to grow cucumbers in my garden which is on the the sunnier, drier side of the yard. In Hawai’i we have “microclimates” which can vary in a short space like in our backyard. My wife has the more shaded, cooler part of the yard.

While I harvested this a while back, it was the only cucumber I have successfully grown as my plants have all dried out and developed gummy stem disease which renders the fruit dry and prickly.

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My wife’s Japanese cucumber plant on the other hand has taken over most of the large trellis we put around it and has begun producing gargantuan results. I harvested this today. It was so big and ungainly that it scared my poor mother in law Toshiko. She could not even bear to be in the same room with it which verifies my suspicion that she is actually part cat.

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This monster weighs about 2 pounds (a little less than 1 kg). It is spikey and you could probably use it as an effective battle club. My mother in law even questioned if it was indeed a cucumber. “I’ve never seen a Japanese cucumber like this, maybe this is an English cucumber or squash.”

After work today we all came home and tried a slice with great trepidation. It was probably the most delicious cucumber I’ve ever had. It was even a little sweet with a strong cucumber taste.

I snipped this off my trellis also. It is a tiny bitter melon from my Fukuoka garden. I sliced it thin and salted it, washed it off and added ginger, bonito flakes and shoyu (a traditional Japanese preparation). It was small but delicious. To get a sense of scale see that it occupies about a four inch circle on my table cloth compared to my wife’s battleship above.

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The good thing about gardening with your wife is that no matter what size, you always get to share the harvest 🙂