Post holiday reflections

It’s a nice rainy day after Christmas in Hawai’i. Probably the closest we’ll ever get to a White Christmas. A good day to reflect, sip tea, and write. According to my jyotish calendar, I am right smack in the middle of Sade Sati, or a seven-and-a-half year period of intense personal challenges. Given the way things have gone in the past two years, I’d say that I am starting to have more belief in my chart. That being said, Sade Sati is supposed to conquer one’s ego and strengthen one’s resolve.

There are certain remedies for Sade Sati, namely an intense yoga practice, mantra-s and songs for Shani who represents Saturn (the astrological placement during Sade Sati) and Hanuman who represents intense devotion and resolve. Also doing good deeds for the less fortunate also decreases the malefic effects of the current planetary placements.

In this morning’s early class I had one student show. She braved the rain and post holiday hustle and bustle to make to class. Small classes are a gift for teachers as they allow you to explain things in greater detail, use more props if needed, and even discuss more philosophical aspects of yoga.

I was able to help her with her pronunciation during the seated invocation to Patanjali and give more of an overview on why we chant this before class. I taught this student how to use a wall rope for adho mukha svanasana for spine traction, and also hang in rope sirsasana. We did supported sarvangasana with a chair and cross bolster setu-bandha. It was a supported, inverted sequence to take the edge off the frenetic holidays.

Now that the pressure is temporarily off for assessment, I feel I can teach with a bit more freedom and go back to poses that I have neglected teaching for a while–the basic salt and pepper poses that season a good practice. There will be plenty of time this year for the more exotically spiced asanas.

My good friend Sonia emailed me an audio recording she took on her phone of Geetaji’s inspiring speech during Guruji’s 99th birthday celebration last week. Geetaji pointed out that Mr. Iyengar never had to get a certificate, he just had devotion to his teacher and his teachings. He just had his practice which spoke for itself. Geeta said that one day Krishnamarcharya’s granddaughter asked Iyengar whom he considered his best student. She said Iyengar replied “Sundararaja.” Sundararaja was his best student. Now if I can only find this “Michael” guy and teach him a thing or two…

Happy belated birthday to Geeta and Mr. Iyengar! Thank you for all that you teach us.

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Back to work

Hi all! It’s been a while since I posted and it’s been one whirlwind of a month. I returned recently from my trip to New Mexico via Los Angeles where I took my Junior Intermediate 1 assessment. Unfortunately, I did not pass the whole assessment. The good news is that I aced the written test with a 92.5 and passed the demonstrated practice which I was most concerned about. However, the next day I did not make the grade on the teaching portion.

The nice thing is that if you don’t pass you get to schedule a phone meeting with the lead assessor. I won’t share who just because I don’t want to have to ask permission and it is a personal thing to boot. However, I called this person who gave me wonderful feedback. It felt like a nice hour long chat with a friend who has a lot of knowledge and experience in Iyengar yoga.

The feedback I got is similar to what my mentoring teachers tell me I need to work on. In fact I really thought I had this stuff down, it just didn’t come out right on the day of the assessment. The Iyengar system is no cakewalk. You can’t just write a poem or essay about how great yoga is and expect to pass. You have to give it your all an then some. Even then, as was my case, is still not enough to advance.

The good news is that I am still a certified Iyengar teacher and if I choose, I can try again next year and only have to do the teaching portion (40 minutes to teach 6 poses from your syllabus with 10-12 students). I also have another year to get these poses down even better.

On an even brighter note, this past week my younger brother and his new wife gave birth to a healthy newborn boy. I look forward to being an uncle and maybe teaching my nephew yoga as he gets older.

The featured image is the New Mexico sky in Rio Rancho at sunset.

A few days until my assessment

I’ve been a bit of a stranger on WordPress the past few months. Mainly in part because I am juggling teaching and my full time job, caregiving, and of course preparing for my Junior Intermediate I assessment this Friday and Saturday. I will be flying to the venue in Los Angeles.

At one point in Iyengar assessments you have to resign yourself to knowing what you know, being able to do what you can do, an hope the assessors see that you are working intelligently even if you can’t attain all of the poses on the syllabus.

There are a few poses I struggle with on this syllabus, but the one that has been really getting my goat is Eka Hasta Bhujasana, or one arm shoulder pose (it not called elephant trunk pose!!!!).  It has taken a village of Iyengar teachers to teach me this pose, and I am still having trouble with execution. I am a bit girthy which contributes to my difficulty, but also my long arms don’t seem allow me to get the torque I need to lift my buttocks off the ground.

My mentoring teachers Ray and Shelley, and their more advanced student Laurie have been very encouraging and getting me to try different strategies. Even Stephanie Tencer in Toronto gave me some good tips.

I feel in the Iyengar system that the poses that give you the most problems are the ones you can teach the best. Because you literally explore 100 ways to do them, or at least some action pertaining to them. So on Friday afternoon when I get my “sealed envelope” of six poses, I shouldn’t dread it if Eka Hasta Bhujasana is on the list. I won’t have the greatest demo, but I sure will give my students a plentitude of options to get into the pose.

Many blessings to you all!

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!

 

 

 

 

…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!