Tag Archives: Arunji

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…

Finally meeting the “prop master,” then “teaching” in his class

As far as Iyengar workshops in Hawai’i there are seasons of feast of famine. Let’s just say this past month has  been like “Thanksgiving” as two senior teacher workshops overlapped each other: last week Laurie Blakeney, and this week H.S. Arun. I have been fortunate enough to be able to attend a little bit of both. I finally met H.S. Arun at his book signing at Val Hobensack’s backyard studio in Kailua over the weekend. Arun remembered my blog post I wrote two years ago.

I attended his class yesterday. My blogging friend Luci Yamamoto (Yogaspy) gave me a primer on his classes and said it is okay to take pictures, so I kept my phone handy and snapped away at some of his beautiful demos using various props the way props aren’t supposed to be propped. It was nice to see how he actually taught the poses, as until now I have only relied on his photos. He made a nice adjustment in chair trikonasana by bending the elbow and holding the side rail of the chair back. Whenever I try to teach this, I get fouled up by varying arm lengths and chair sizes. Bending the elbow is an elegant solution.

IMG_1763He also taught Virabhadrasana II with the strap on the outside of his foot. This added a strong sense of the “earth element” on the back side of the pose and gave a sense of how to lift the torso from the armpit chest from the strap side.IMG_1770

As fate would have it, he asked if there were any teachers in the class after doing Virabhadrasana I with a strap. A few of us raised our hand, and he pointed at me and said “go in front of the class and teach Virabhadrasana I.” I took a deep breath and taught the complete classic pose with demo. I think that is the first time I was asked to spot teach in front of a room full of students. It brought back memories of my apprenticeship when I would be summoned by my mentoring teachers to teach a pose in class. Arun gave me a few nice corrections on my teaching the pose as I said “bend the knee.” He suggested to instruct lowering the buttock and let the knee follow with the buttock moving faster. Inside my head I felt my teaching was very dry and basic after a week and a half of hearing brilliant instruction from senior teachers. Despite that, most of the students did the pose well based on my instructions.

Arun finished class in a sophisticated setu bandha setup. He pointed to a plate of Iyengar in Sarvangasana and made note of the hand placement. He said that eventually, the sequence is to drop back into setu bandha in the sarvangasana hand position as seen below.

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The way setu bandha is normally taught to is with a single block under the sacrum. He used two blocks to mimic the placement of the hands in classical setu bandha. He gave options to move the blocks to the kidneys, sacrum or lower buttocks for different effects. I found the kidney placement quite soothing.

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On a side note, it was very nice to connect with Val Hobensack again. She was my original Iyengar teacher from many years ago. She spent many patient years hammering my poses even before I was capable of listening to her detailed instructions. Before moving to Kailua, she would teach out of her living room in her Diamond Head home. And thank you Robin Mishell for being instrumental in organizing this wonderful workshop!

H.S. Arun, prop master!


parivrtta trikonasana with chair

At my Iyengar yoga assessment last September, one of the candidates told me about a teacher from Bangalore who would give yearly workshops in Santa Fe. “This guy is a prop master,” she said, then showed me one of his teachings: a simple version of Pavana Muktasana (see below) with a white strap in a three foot loop with one end behind the knees, the other end around the neck. Five minutes in this pose turned my tight back to butter. The constant tension of the thighs pushing against the strap in the pose makes the muscle fibers in the back unwind one-by-one until the back is completely softened. This was revolutionary. “He does this every night after he teaches coupled with Supta Padangusthasana to relieve the stress from teaching,” she said.

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Pavana Muktasana with strap

The man is H.S. Arun. He has been teaching yoga since 1976 under the tutelage of BKS Iyengar who awarded him with a Advanced Junior certification. Full disclosure, I have never met Arun or attended one of his classes. That is what makes his practice more intriguing to me.

I sought him out on YouTube. If you saw this man walking down the street, you wouldn’t even think of him as a yoga practitioner. This man is an accountant by profession and looks very much the part. All you would see is just see a 60ish year old man in workout gear, like they kind you would see your gramps wearing to the gym. Ha ha Lululemon! Watching him do yoga, that illusion transforms. In all of his poses, he demonstrates beautifully. In the final pose, he closes his eyes and looks peaceful and content. Not just easy poses. Poses like Yogadandasana (as seen below) where you have to rotate your hip so much that your foot is placed in the armpit. Poses like Krounchasana, where one leg is fully flexed in Virasana, and the other leg is extended up.

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H.S. Arun in Yogadandasana

His Facebook page which is rife with pictures of him a various workshops, as he is just finishing a US tour. The photos inspire. He doing Virabhardrasana I with a long strap looped around his back foot and hold the other end above his head. I tried this today, and have never felt such a stable and even backbend in this pose…ever!

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Virabhadrasana I with strap

Iyengar yoga gets its undo share of ribbing for its use of props. But this man takes it the other way. He shows what is possible with the use of props like no other teacher I have seen. And at 60 years old, he looks like he is still in his  30s when doing asana…and far better than any 30 year old I’ve seen!

So far I have had much success in reverse engineering the poses just based on his photographs and videos. I even had my uncle who has severe back problems do the Pavana Muktasana as mentioned above. My uncle felt immediate relief. Arun highlights the innovativeness of the Iyengar method and inspires me to want to experiment more with props to see what is possible. Perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough to attend one his workshops.