Tag Archives: Iyengar yoga

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.

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A bit on teaching

I don’t write much about teaching yoga. I find it in many ways a completely different skill set than practicing asana and pranayama. Way back when, my initial motivation to teach was to build community. I always saw my actual 9-to-5 job as the way to make money to subsidize my yoga teaching. To this day, that continues very much to be the case.

Fifteen or so years ago, I took over a teacher’s spot at a church in Honolulu. She taught Saturdays with a “love donation.” The church has since gone through many phases of leadership and I am now required to give 25 dollars for each hour I spend in the room. There are some Saturdays that I have to cough up $10 or so dollars to make up the difference. Other days I have found a crisp $100 bill in my donation bowl and nobody fessing up to it. Just like those statistics professors who sadistically make their students toss a coin and record each outcome to eventually reach .50 of even throws, I feel that somehow I have broken even after 15 years.

It is the not worrying so much if I am making money aspect that has given me students who have stayed with me for many of those 15 years. It is very much more of a community than a class. Most of my students tend to be in their 60s and 70s. Many of the young ones don’t stick around as the next door vinyasa studio gives them what they seek.

For most of my Iyengar training, I have fastidiously developed sequences based on the syllabus that I was learning and wrote them down following them to the letter. That all stopped when I didn’t pass my teaching portion of the Junior Intermediate I last year in LA. After that assessment, I was pretty distraught. I decided then that I should really just see who shows up and what they need and some how fit it into the clan of poses our studio is teaching that week (standing, forward bends, back bends, miscellaneous, and restorative/pranayama).

I feel that is when I started making a lot of connections. If capable students come, I give them challenging poses. If students come who are not used to regular practice, I try to give them something they can learn and practice outside of class. I could not have made it to this process without all the years to writing my sequences down however. Just like one who learns times tables, it has to be something that you can recall by rote if needed.

For now I am relieved and content that I have passed my test. I feel I can get back to the basics again. I recall somewhat resenting in my earlier days the basic-ness of the standing poses we had to learn in Intro I. Now I see that those poses are the true foundation of what I am practicing today and will be throughout my life.

 

…Four years later

I am writing this bit early, but want to commemorate the fourth year of Guruji’s passing on August 20. Sometimes when am in a conundrum about my teaching and practice, I will find one of Guruji’s videos on Youtube and just listen to him teach. He has very simple and clear instructions, but extremely precise timing on those instructions. Sometimes when I am teaching and feel I am rambling, I think about how simple his instructions would have been for the same concept and it slows me down.

If you listen to his children teach you hear echoes of him. Geeta is very precise. Here she spends several minutes teaching just the base of tadasana. Her translator, Italian Iyengar teacher Gabriella Giubilaro, allows you to absorb the instructions.

Prahsant is different. He says the name of the pose, expects his students to get into it then asks them to use their breath and kriyas to understand Yoga through their embodiment with very little reference to anatomy. In a two hour class he will only teach half a dozen poses. Students stay in the poses as he lectures. There are no videos of his teaching, but here is a lecture he gives about actions and perceptions in asana. This is another side of the coin in Iyengar’s teaching.

As Iyengar’s students, we use asana as a platform to understand the whole of Yoga. Very much like using a boat to cross the river, once Yoga starts to be perceived, asana no longer takes the forefront, but the deeper intelligence which the asanas have taught us.

As stated in my previous post about types of Gurus, the teaching of yoga isn’t so much the same teaching one would receive in a university where a subject is memorized and read about. Yoga is a personal technology which allows one to see his/herself as a manifestation of the whole and how to proceed accordingly in this embodiment in this short physical lifetime. Iyengar was indeed the master of using this method of teaching us yoga.

December 14 will mark Guruji’s 100th birthday. As a mark of this celebration, there is a petition to rename one of his hallmark poses, Uttāna Padma Mayūrāsana to Iyengarāsana. His longtime students overheard him saying he would like this asana to be one that people remember him by.

Screen Shot 2018-08-10 at 9.07.05 PM

Thank you for all you have given us. You are indeed missed.

 

 

 

 

A few thoughts on Guru Purnima

Tonight marks an auspicious evening as the last full moon in July correlates to Guru Purnima (literally Guru “fullness”) has traditionally been a time where sages would provide their wisdom to people for free as a karma practice.

In one of Prashant-ji’s talks, he says that the knowledge the Guru teaches is not from the outside, like a history or science class, but has to stimulate the teaching from the inside of the student. He illustrates 12 different types of gurus in how they teach.

The first type instructs students to go on a pilgrimage to holy sites to attain knowledge. The second type of guru transmits knowledge by being in close proximity the student. The third type is where teacher simply just needs to tell the student to transmit the knowledge. The fourth type graces the student. The fifth is “touchstone” guru where one touch from the guru transmits the knowledge. The sixth is “tortoise” guru, where a mere glance from the guru transmits the knowledge. The moon stone guru is named after a stone where during moonrise, water comes from the stone. In a similar way the guru can remotely teach the student from far away. The next is the mirror guru, where the student sees the guru like a mirror image. The next is the type where if the shadow of the guru falls on the disciple then the student gets the grace. The next is when someone hears just the voice of the guru, then the knowledge occurs. The next guru is one who just thinks of the disciple and then the knowledge comes. The sun stone guru is named after a stone where the sun causes flames to come out of it, similarly this guru’s sight will burn the impurities from the student.

I am about a month away from redoing my assessment from last year, where I passed two portions (demonstrated practice and written test), but did not pass the teaching portion. I have been reviewing my notes over years of training. I reflect on what my teachers have tried to teach me through probably all of the methods mentioned above.

I realized years ago learning yoga is not a linear process. You spend a lot of time on vast plateaus. You even backslide, unable to attain things you used to take for granted. But in losing those, you gain more unimaginable skills.

The guru mantra that was taught to us shortly after Guruji’s passing is one I chant at the end of every class:

Gurur Brahma Gurur Vishnu Gurur Devo Maheshwaraha
Gurur Saakshaat Para Brahma Tasmai Shree Gurave Namaha

I bow to the guru who creates, the guru who sustains, and the guru who destroys. I bow to the guru within, and the guru that pervades the universe.

Many blessings tonight.

Happy International Day of Yoga!

As the summer solstice ushers in this new holiday, try this sequence developed by Geeta Iyengar. She starts the sequence with the invocation to Patanjali.

Tadasana

Namaskarasana

Urdvha Hastasana

Uttanasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Uttanasana

Tadasana

Utthita Trikonasana

Utthita Parsvakonasana

Virabhadrasana I

Parivrtta Trikonasana

Parsvottanasana

Prasarita Padottanasana

Dandasana

Janu Sirsasana

Adho Mukha Upavistha Konasana

Virasana/Parvatasana

Swastikasana/Parvatasana

Parsva Dandasana

Bhradvajasana I

Marichyasana III

Urdvha Mukha Svanasana

Dhanurasana

Ustrasana

Adho Mukha Svanasna

Sirsasana

Sarvangasana

Halasana

Chatuse Padasana

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana

Savasana

Sit in Dhyana for meditation afterwards

Many blessings on this auspicious day!

 

 

Auspicious Friday: Narasimha Jayanti

Today the birthday of Narasimha is celebrated. He is the fourth incarnation of Vishnu and is depicted as half-lion/half-man who is the destroyer of all evil. He is mentioned numerous times in Iyengar’s writings and even was a source of inspiration for Iyengar when he started to utilize props. As you can see in the statue below, Narasimha is using both blocks and a strap in his seated asana.

narasimha blocks

Devotees of Narasimha are given protection. There was a evil king named Hiranyakashipu who threatened his son Prahlad not to pray to Vishnu. Prahlad did not let his father’s threats deter him and maintained his devotion. Hiranyakashipu attempted to slay his son by throwing him to poisonous snakes, having him trampled by elephants, and putting him in a fire. None of the methods harmed the child. The son told his father that Vishu is everywhere and protects him no matter what. The wicked Hiranyakashipu mocked is son and asked if Vishu was in a nearby pillar. The boy said “yes.” In a fit of rage Hiranyakashipu kicked the pillar and Narasimha burst out and destroyed the evil king who had been given powers of invincibility by Indra.

These stories surrounding Istha Devatas remind me that faith and devotion are important in one’s practice, even when conditions are not ideal. Linked here is a video with devotional song to Narasimha. Many blessings to you on this Narasimha Jayanti!

 

 

More Blakeney Notes

Alas! It is sad when a good workshop ends as Laurie Blakeney’s last class was on Sunday. Rather than a bunch of unrelated tips, the main points I have gained from this workshop are: sequence based on effect and feeling versus just a the same clan of poses, and asanas are supposed to draw one more internally no matter how “difficult.”

There was one class where we did closed twists. That is the clan where I have a great amount of difficulty due to my girth. As usual, she had us start with about an hour of seated poses. We did Marichyasana III. She asked me to move my bent knee foot more to the side. I knew the instruction, but noticed that this is a pose I subconsciously avoid due to the discomfort it gives me. That may contribute to my fumbling around in the base. She also had us sit on one blanket when I normally use three. My anxiety even before we got into the pose was overwhelming.

But once we started executing the pose, I felt better. I moved my big belly over and got into the upper back. She used the analogy of a doctor using a stethoscope and putting it on your upper back, asking you to breathe into it. That worked wonders!

She then pointed to a photo on the wall at Guruji in the full pose with the arm wrap. “You see the black and white photo where the light is shining from his skin? Breath into those places where the light is brightest.” A “light” literally went on in my head in how I view the poses.

She also made the analogy of starch sting on a balloon in pranayama. This comes from a kids’ craft project where one dips a string in starch and wraps it around an inflated balloon makes the general shape of the balloon. When the balloon deflates, the string remains in the shape. This is how she said one can visualize the ribcage in pranayama practice.

She emphasized the importance of not skipping savasana after pranayama. She said that she knew of a nurse who would have an intense pranayama practice before work but eschewed her savasana. She said later in the day she would become irritable. Once the nurse started practicing savasana, she said the late day irritation dissipated.