Tag Archives: Asana

MPY is an outdated term

Seven years ago, Mark Singleton published a made-for-the-average-Joe version of his thesis in Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice which states in so many words that yoga as we know it today is less than 100 years old. This has started a whole wave of thinking that yoga is some kind of scam dreamed up by Hindu nationalists who pirated asana-s from Kerala wrestlers and Swedish gymnastics manuals. Sadly, this has also inspired a new wave of yoga commentators in pushing a hate-filled anti-Indian agenda that is critical of teaching techniques by Krishnamacharya and his disciples. It has also given a slew of yoga teacher trainings self made license to do what ever kind of contortions they want to do and call it “yoga” which has led to an epidemic of yoga-related injuries. I have been reticent to delve into this debate as I had to educate myself more on the issue before having an intelligent voice in the matter.

Recently Singleton has teamed up with researcher James Mallinson to go on a fact finding trip to India to really find out where yoga came from. In the forthcoming press about Mallinson’s recent book Roots of Yoga, he states that yoga is not exclusively Hindu, but draws from Buddhist and Jain practices as well. Just like in a rainforest, a botanist finds a mysterious leaf peeking out of dense foliage and tries to find the root of the leaf only to find it is part of much larger matrix of life from which it is impossible to find a single source, it seems as though Mallinson et al. have found themselves in a similar conundrum. I have yet to read the book, but the press that has come from the findings of this team is leaving one with more questions than answers.

Which brings me back to the point of the title of this post: MPY or Modern Postural Yoga is an outdated term. We are not sure how old asana-s are and if what we are practicing today even resembles asana-s of yoga past before photography. What some of us know who are Iyengar practitioners is that the asana-s that our teacher taught have given us far more than we bargained for when we first stepped foot in class. Iyengar’s method of teaching and asana-s that he presented are transformative to one both physically and mentally. For those of us who stuck with it for several years, the practice continues to bring us more fruit with each consecutive year. At least that has been the case for me.

I am not a scholar, but a practitioner. But being a good practitioner means one has an element of scholarship in one’s sadhana, particularly in reading the classic texts like Patanjali Yoga Sutra-s. I read several translations as I am not fluent in Sanskrit so I can get a better gist of what the Sutra-s are trying to impart. The one truth I continually glean from my readings is that when one’s mind is silent from practice, one gains insight based on one’s own reality. The true yogic knowlege is gained from direct experience. Just like when you first learned to tie your shoes without help from your parents, you were forever empowered with that skill. There are many “tied shoe” experiences with continued uninterrupted practice.

So may the term Modern Postural Yoga find its way into the lexiconic trash bin of tired phrases. The yoga we practice today is from the same body infrastructure of humanity’s several millennia. The body of 2017 reacts the postures the way the body reacted to it in the times of the Upanishads. In case you didn’t know, that is far more than 100 years old.

 

 

Jupiter’s South Pole…the great mandala

This image just came back from the NASA satellite Juno launched in 2011 to explore Jupiter. When I was a kid, I was fascinated with Jupiter from the Voyager missions. It is such a turbulent planet with a toxic gaseous atmosphere and a great storm with winds up to 400 miles per hour. Jupiter’s beauty lies in its turbulence.

It also has many moons among which is Io, a volcanic moon which is a pure firework spouting sulfur hundreds of kilometers into space. That makes it visible from Earth, as Galileo discovered it in the 1600s from the crude astronomical instruments at the time.

io

Io

I am part of a Hubble Image discussion group on Facebook on which there are serious astronomers. I am just there because I like to see the images from the universe. One scientist in the group commented that he does not like people referencing the spiritual or God when commenting on these images. To me, one can simultaneously be scientifically minded and still view the wonders of the universe as spiritual experience. In fact one who can’t do both is quite limited in my opinion.

As one gets into their yoga practice for several years, one starts to see that they are not separate from anything. The Upanisads say that Brahman is everywhere in the universe. When I see these images, I feel a deep connection, as though I am a part of them in the farthest reaches of the galaxy. The galaxy is full of wonder. Not only with its contents, but with its sheer vastness. The opening mantra of the Isa Upanishad talks about how all is infinite and perfect, and that we are very much a part of that infinity and perfection.

Carl Jung theorized about the archetypes, or images that recur throughout all of humanity. One he was particularly fascinated with was the mandala. One can see forms of mandalas in all religions. From the stained glass at in the Chartres Cathedral, to the dancing pattern in Sufi’s whirling dervishes, to Tibetan sand forms. When one sees the underside of Jupiter, one sees all of these and more.

Each ring in the photograph represents a different “belt” of clouds. Very much like the Earth’s tropics above and below the equator, these belts represent a different direction in which the weather patterns move. When we do twisting asanas like parivrtta trikonasana, our bodies take on this very same phenomenon with different fluids and gases of the body moving in spiraling patterns. When we do pranayama, the air enters our system and heats up immediately. This causes “storms” in our different bodily region and regulates our prana. When done correctly, the weather in our body is harmonious. When done improperly, like Jupiter, our nervous system becomes turbulent. We are not different than the universe. The universe is not different from us.

 

 

 

A standing pose sequence if you have minimal props

If we want to do more yoga outside the studio, it is best to be practical. I like to integrate yoga into my work day, and therefore keep a few props at my desk at work. For this sequence, all you need are a mat, a block and a strap…

 

1 Tadasana

tadasana

2 Urdvha Hastasana

urdvha hastasana

3 Urdvha Baddanguliyasana

tadasana_urdhavbaddhahastas

4 Gomukhasana Arms (use strap if you can touch hands)

gomukhasana arms

5 Utthita Trikonasana (illustration Lior Hikrey)

lior trikonasana

6 Utthita Parsvakonasana (use block if needed)

Gettysburg U. Parsvakonasna

7 Ardha Chandrasana (use block if needed)

ac IV

8 Prasarita Padottanasana (use block under head if can’t reach the floor)

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 1.27.00 PM

9 Salamba Sirsasana (omit if mensturating, high blood pressure, or eye problems)

sirsasana iyengar

10 Dandasana

dandasana iyengar

11 Upavistha Konasana

upavistha konasna

12 Baddha Konasana (use strap around feet if you can’t reach them)

baddha konasana

13 Setu Bandha (bend knees, feet on floor if only one block)

setu bandha

14 Savasana

savasana

Enjoy your practice!

 

 

 

 

This old Pune belt

After my father-in-law passed away in May, my mother-in-law is now wanting to go to a care home which means we will have to sell our house. My wife and I are surveying this daunting task and were in decision paralysis on where to start. We decided that the first thing to do was start cleaning.

While I was straightening out my “yoga room” I came across an old Pune strap that my mentoring teacher Ray Madigan gave to me many years ago when I first started on my assessment path. Back then the strap was slightly used from the studio. Now, as seen above, it is ripped in half and heavily stained.

It reminded me of my Karate training early in life. When I was young, like 7 or 8 years old, my father enrolled my brother and I in Karate classes. We were given fresh, white belts. The theory with the karate belt system is that as you progress and practice, your belt gets stained. So the progression is white, yellow, green, purple, brown, then black (at least that was our system in the school). The “black belt” is that way because of blood, sweat, tears, and a bit of grass stains over many years of ardent practice.

So as you can see above, I am probably a yellow/green belt in yoga (using the same belt system). Obviously this took far beyond 200 hours which is the current standard of most yoga schools.

Another thing about Pune belts is that they are extremely durable. They are a light weight cotton corduroy, so to break one takes repeated beatings. I am fairly gentle with my props, so the above strap is a product of time, pressure, and repeated use. I remember the day it ripped when I was going between halasana and sarvangasana. It made me a bit sad.

Interestingly enough, I have been studying the second pada of the Yoga Sutras. This week I am focusing on II.11 dhyāna-heyās tad-vṛttayaḥ, or the states of mind produced by these klesas (ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear to death) are eliminated by meditation. Vyasa, a famous commentator, likens removal of kleshas to washing clothes by hand. First you shake the clothing removing the large dirt particles, then you scrub the clothes in soap and beat them against a rock to remove the finer dirt. If the clothes are stained so badly, you burn the garment. As meditation “burns” the seeds of kleshas and samskaras, it purifies the being. I will definitely not burn this stained strap as it is more of a marker of my progress.

As change is the only constant in life, I will be better off in not being attached to my house, or yoga room, or straps and just surrender to what is in front of me. Perhaps the years of hard work it took to get my Pune belt it that condition will help me in this next phase of my adulthood. I wonder how many years it will take me to get a “black belt?”

 

Teaching at a special event

Every now and then I take a the opportunity to teach at special events. Today was the “Plants and Healthy Living” expo at Foster Botanical Garden in Honolulu which was set up by my old friend Naomi. You never know what to expect when teaching at an unknown venue, so it is best to keep things simple.

There are so many different types of yoga styles out now, I wanted to find a way to promote Iyengar that showed the subtlest difference with the largest impact. Since this was an outdoor venue, the only props I brought were my bag of Pune straps.

I taught two 30 minute demo classes with a very basic standing pose sequence that can be done in a park setting:

Tadasana/ Urdvha Hastasana

Virabhadrasana I

Utthita Trikonasana

Vrksasana

Swastikasana

I had everyone get a strap and put it around their wrists for the urdvha hastasana action. This creates a dramatic chest profile which is hard to attain without the prop. It was well received by the attendees.

It is not until you teach people with little to no experience that you realize the value of this method. It is step by step and un-intimidating. An attendee approached me afterward and said “I have never seen warrior broken down and taught that way before, I helped me a lot.”

What I appreciate about being a teacher of this style is that instructions are given for each movement in the asana one at a time. This allows the teacher to watch and see if the instructions are taken. I feel this prevents a lot of injuries for one. Secondly, it forces the student to pay attention taking them into a focused state. This in turn shuts down the mind chatter.

IMG_2064

I passed out a few class coupons and schedules at the event to drum up some business. It is best to get students from a grass-roots level instead of mass marketing because you have a deeper sense of connection with them. The one thing I have found out about Iyengar yoga students is they tend to stick around for years once they see the benefits. Thank you Foster Garden for the opportunity to share my practice.

 

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.

 

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!