Tag Archives: Iyengar yoga

Invocation to Patanjali for beginning students?

In this morning’s class, one student brought printed out words to the Invocation to Patanjali she found on the internet because she wanted to learn the chant.  She distributed copies for all the students. Unfortunately, she ended just printing out the first few lines and cut off a word. We already have printed versions of the whole chant at the studio in laminated cards, but I don’t pass them out. I simply chant when the clock hits seven am.

She asked why don’t I pass out the words? That is a question I ask myself often, but here is what the “words” look like:

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They are a bit intimidating for the beginner. Especially at 7 am. In my best voice I chant the words. It is call and response. This is how I always start the class.

Yoga is an oral tradition. This is how it has been taught from a long time ago. People didn’t learn with laminated cards with phonetic spellings. They learned from simple call and response.

There is much more to it than that. The invocation is a skillfully concealed pranayama. You don’t read a pranayama. You breathe it. It is the use of sound to unify the class from the beginning. It gets us on the same “page.”

It is a metaphysical chant. The sound forms purify the nadi-s and spin the wheels of the chakras. The chant generates a field around the student to allow absorption of the teachings.

So perhaps next class I will pass out the laminated copies to compare the experience. You never know, they might just “learn” the chant that way…

 

On a happy note, today marks Iyengar Home Practice’s sixth anniversary. Hopefully there will be many more.

Sometimes Savasana is all you need

I taught a nice class this morning. Five of my regular students showed and it is “standing pose week.” We went through some standard standing postures: adhomukha svanasana, utthita trikonasana/parsvakonasana, vira II, ardha chandrasasna, and prasarita padottanasana. We went through some not so standard variations of utthita hasta padangusthasana with a chair and rope wall. I even threw in a rare salamba sarvangasana for a basic level class using the wall in lieu of chair and omitting halasana.

Standing poses demand a certain rigor that the other poses do not. Because you are on your feet most of the time you can push a bit harder. As we are transitioning to the damp rainy season in Hawai’i, the standing poses offset stiff joints that accompany wetter weather.

After the last active pose, I settled the class into savansana. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of my students peer in the door. She had thought it was Friday and came for the class taught at that time. She seemed disoriented. In my hush voice, I had her come in and at least do the savasana with the class. After all, she commuted to class from wherever she lives and made the effort to suit up. She reluctantly agreed.

I gave her a nice savasana set up I learned from my mentor Ray many years ago. A “mini” setu-bandha setup with two blankets set long to go under the spine so there is a subtle chest opening more than you’d just get lying on the floor.

I always to a 10 minute savasana no matter what. Most people don’t take that much time in their lives just to commit to doing nothing. I feel it is important with our stressed out society.

After class that student came up to me and said that she had been on the East Coast (six hour time difference than Hawai’i) and was so jet lagged, she thought it was Friday. She said she was stressed because she was preparing for a conference call. The relief on her face was markedly different from when I saw her stressfully peering into class just 10 minutes before. Everything was okay for her now and she could enjoy her day she was “given” by realizing it was Thursday.

Sometimes savasana is all you need….

Jim needs your help

Jim Dillman, long time Iyengar yoga teacher and Vietnam vet, is battling cancer. His friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to assist with his medical bills. In my early days of Iyengar yoga, Jim encouraged me to become a teacher. He has been an inspiration for me because he is a living testament to how yoga can profoundly heal someone and transform them into a force for good. If you have known Jim, or want to help out a wonderful soul, please send him well wishes.

A season of reflection

Hi all! I know it’s been a while. A good friend of mine sent me an email encouraging me to start blogging again. A lot has happened since I last posted both personally and in the US Iyengar community. I felt I needed to sit back and see how things unfolded before jumping into the fray again.

It’s been about a year since I passed my Intermediate Junior I certification. Almost instantly after passing, I was able to relax and just teach the way I wanted to instead worrying about the syllabus. Despite my certification, I prefer to teach basic and raw beginner students. I think I have learned so many modifications trying to get into the Junior I poses, I have applied many of those principles to the simpler poses with nice results.

One thing I have never felt too comfortable with is physically adjusting students. Perhaps it is because of my background in psychology and counseling that I realize people have a lot trauma. Being in an asana can be vulnerable, and to be unexpectedly handled can be like ripping the band aid off an emotional wound.

When I got the notifications that a senior member of our community was ousted for inappropriate adjustments, I felt a jolt. It made me question a lot of things about how we are taught to adjust students in this method. Touching someone is a powerful thing, and can be easily misconstrued. Perhaps that is why I prefer the more basic classes is that many of the asanas don’t require a lot of adjustment if the verbal direction is clear. Long story short, I felt very sad by the news as it put a black mark on this style of teaching which I felt for so many years was peerless.

While all of this was unfolding, I had to sadly give up one of the classes I taught for 16 years because of a road closure that made it difficult for me to get to the class on Saturdays. That, coupled with students who have left the island or became ill left me a little shaken as well. It was almost like having a friend pass away. 

There have been times in the past year I thought about packing it up. I felt like I was going through the motions. My personal practice had deteriorated and my asana ability was crumbling. I was getting fewer students. My health was going downhill as well. I gained weight and my blood pressure was high.  I was constantly exhausted.  Working a full time job and a few side gigs plus yoga classes was taking its toll. And my wife and I are still caregivers for her mom. I saw a doctor who recommended I do a sleep study as my wife said that I snore. As it turns out, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I started using a CPAP machine at night.

Shortly after using the CPAP machine, I felt much better. I didn’t have to take naps every day. My blood pressure improved. And most importantly, my mental clarity started getting sharper again. My weight started to go down as well.

My classes started getting bigger. Now I am starting to get six to nine students when before I was lucky to get four or five per class. I started feeling good about teaching again, and have started back on my personal practice. I have been teaching this particular class for about five years now. I feel close to my students as they have supported me through all the years of getting this certification, my father-in-law passing, and my personal struggles. In short, I am tremendously grateful for my students. At the end of class I chant the Guru Mantra that was taught to us shortly after Guruji’s passing. It is for thanking all of my teachers and my students who as it turns out, are some the greatest teachers of all.

Thanks for the email Sonia!

This blog hasn’t gone to the dogs yet

Hi everyone! It’s been a busy few months since my wife and I got our puppy Kinako. When we first got her in November she weighed 10 pounds. Now she is clocking in at 50 pounds of Goldern Retriever! That’s a lot of dog. Some have said raising a dog is in many ways harder than raising a baby, as the dog is quite mobile and active even after a few weeks. After the potty training, the teething, the destroying of property, getting spayed, and a few weeks of puppy school, I think our family is now starting to sort things out into less chaos.

I am still teaching and practicing. In fact this past weekend I was lucky enough to sneak away from subbing duties to attend a part of Kofi Busia’s workshop at the East Honolulu Yoga Center. If you have read my other entries about Kofi’s classes, he pretty much gets you settled into a posture and then lectures about a wide range of topics that somehow relate to the asana you are doing.

He compared the design of a hammer to that of a mallet and cited the obvious refinement of the hammer design to that of the clunky mallet. He spoke of the designer of the modern weighted hammer, a blacksmith who was only interested in refining the design of an established tool. I was too busy maintaining my dandasana to get the name of the inventor who Kofi mentioned several times. But after thinking about it after class, it is an obvious parallel to BKS Iyengar who saw the asanas that was being practiced, and refined them to be more impactful. There were a lot of other deeper gems from the workshop, but that was the only one my mind had clung to.

From that small dissertation, I was inspired in many ways not just about yoga, but about other aspects of my life. The common thread is that the hammer designer, the ice axe designer, the golf club designer, and Iyengar all saw what was hiding in plain sight and refined it to paradigm shifting usefulness.

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The garden is still going well. Above are Meyer lemon blossoms which will lead to fruit late this year. Gardening with a dog is challenging. Especially given her predilection for flower pots (the kind with flowers still in them). They are by far her favorite toys probably due to their destructiveness when hurled against things. You learn to not get too attached to your favorite plants. I’ve had to install fencing around parts of my garden to keep her out. Sometimes I’ll see a plant missing and dug up, only to find its rooty shreds underneath my blanket along with a flower pot just before bedtime. I can’t get mad, it’s some twisted form of a love offering. I can honestly say I haven’t had a matching pair of socks since getting the dog. Sometimes I find a long lost argyle when watering my basil. I haven’t laughed this hard at personal loss in a long time.

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Bitter melon, daikon, basil in a mulch of grass. Probably a few socks in there too.

Geetaji 1944-2018

Very sad news from Pune. Geeta has passed two days after her father’s centennial celebrations. The world of yoga will mourn the loss of this legendary practitioner and teacher. My heart goes out to the Iyengar family, and all of my teachers who directly learned from her.

Geeta has written several books on yoga including Yoga: A Gem For Women, and has been instrumental in the teaching curriculum for Iyengar teacher assessments. This is a significant loss for all of us.

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Not passing last year’s assessment helped my yoga practice grow stronger

2017 was probably one of he most difficult years I’ve had in a long time. I was coming off the heels of two significant family losses in 2016: my grandmother and father-in-law. It was also a year after my mom moved away to the mainland. Since my father-in-law passed, my wife and I share duties as caregiver for my mother-in-law who is in a wheelchair after a stroke in her 50s. This includes being woken up in the middle of the night several times to take her to the toilet. To cap off the difficult year, I didn’t pass the Junior Intermediate I assessment I had been preparing for in the four years preceding. I felt I let my teachers down, my family down, and my students down.

I thought in many ways 2018 would also be a difficult year. We started the year with a false alarm missile alert. We also had two major hurricane scares so far. Sleep depravation is a constant. Plus I am busy juggling a full time job with teaching yoga classes.

As I have stated before, there is a regression toward the mean. That means when things are really bad, they don’t stay really bad forever. Things started to take a turn for the better when my mom visited in July. She stayed with my wife and I which was unusual  because all these years we lived near each other, and when I was in college I would stay with her. My mom would go to the beach every day and invited me to go with her. She reminded me that going to the beach is a major coping skill that I haven’t utilized for years.

Throughout all the past years of stress, I have developed a mantra practice. Before I went for my assessment last year in LA, I did my own puja to Saraswati. She gives those who are trying to study boons to help them. When I didn’t pass, I was perplexed. I wanted to be upset, but I felt that Saraswati was trying to teach me something deeper than just passing a test. I feel she was trying to completely transform me to be ready for something bigger.

I also held puja for Ganesh and Hanuman. Ganesh clears the obstacles in one’s way. Hanuman has all the yogic powers and demonstrates how to use them for the good of humanity as he has done in the Ramayana. There is a passage in the Ramayana where Rama is distraught after his wife has been kidnapped. That is when Hanuman first appears to him and gives him hope. In the same way, these mantras have given me hope when I listen to them and recite them that good news is on the way.

There are so many times I wanted to quit. There was even one time I considered canceling my airline ticket. My wife would not allow me to do so. She has been one of my best supporters through this whole process, even though she is equally fatigued with caregiving if not moreso.

About a month before the assessment, she got good news that her brother was able to take care of her mother during the time of my trip. She was able to come with me! It had been a few years since we were able to travel together. The assessment journey turned into a wonderful week’s vacation. My wife and I finally got a chance to enjoy each other without caregiving duties. We had such a blast!

Since my trip, I do feel transformed. I feel very relieved to have passed this test. Even if I didn’t pass, I feel that the hardship I have been facing isn’t so much gone, but now more manageable. My mantra practice is not as intense as it was before my assessment, and I miss it (even though I still practice). I even have to admit I put more into my mantra practice than my asana practice. But now I see how much it made sense for me at this time. As the Ramayana has many twists and turns, Rama prevails in the end with the help of his wife, his family, and his spiritual faith. I feel that Saraswati now smiles at her handiwork.