Tag Archives: HS Arun

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!

 

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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…

It’s been quite a year…

As I was walking around the block after tonight’s dinner, I had a chance to reflect back on this year of intense change. Despite having some major personal losses, this year has also had a few bright spots for me.

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One major highlight was finally meeting H.S. Arun. In the above picture, before a class in his Kailua workshop he asked me “how much do you weigh?” “200 pounds” I replied back. He then had me sit on him as a weight for his Upavishta Konasana. He asked me to take my hands to Urdvha Hastasana to centralize the weight. We really bonded well during the workshop. Thank you Robin Mishell for the photo.

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My classes are growing. I used to have an average of about 6 people per class. This year it has grown to about nine. The really nice thing about these numbers are that many of my students have been practicing with me for more than 5 years, and a small handful for more than a decade.

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I’m still in teacher training. Despite all that has happened this year, I am still working toward my Junior Intermediate I certification. Above is one of my mentoring teachers Ray Madigan with Laurie Freed (in Kurmasana) who passed her Junior Intermediate II this year. Along with Shelley Choy, Ray has been leading trainings a few days a month. I am blessed to have these small sessions with my teachers.

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My garden. I can’t express how much pleasure I derive from gardening. Watching life grown and change daily before your eyes awakens me to the miracle of this existence. Above is a tiny lettuce sprout springing out of the straw. I may even start another blog just focusing on my garden and the techniques of the Fukuoka style.

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My loving, talented wife. She has propped me up during my down times, and I have propped her up during her down times. We make a great team and I love her very much. Also helping to keep joy in our lives is my hanai niece Sasha who often joins us for our misadventures like eating robot served sushi.

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Lastly, my blog. If people keep viewing at the current rate, I should make 100,000 views this year. To me that is far higher than I have ever dreamed for this little blog of practicing Iyengar yoga at home. Thank you all for your readership, and I hope to have some great posts in 2017…

 

H.S. Arun, prop master!


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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.