Tag Archives: Iyengar

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.

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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!

 

 

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Post holiday reflections

It’s a nice rainy day after Christmas in Hawai’i. Probably the closest we’ll ever get to a White Christmas. A good day to reflect, sip tea, and write. According to my jyotish calendar, I am right smack in the middle of Sade Sati, or a seven-and-a-half year period of intense personal challenges. Given the way things have gone in the past two years, I’d say that I am starting to have more belief in my chart. That being said, Sade Sati is supposed to conquer one’s ego and strengthen one’s resolve.

There are certain remedies for Sade Sati, namely an intense yoga practice, mantra-s and songs for Shani who represents Saturn (the astrological placement during Sade Sati) and Hanuman who represents intense devotion and resolve. Also doing good deeds for the less fortunate also decreases the malefic effects of the current planetary placements.

In this morning’s early class I had one student show. She braved the rain and post holiday hustle and bustle to make to class. Small classes are a gift for teachers as they allow you to explain things in greater detail, use more props if needed, and even discuss more philosophical aspects of yoga.

I was able to help her with her pronunciation during the seated invocation to Patanjali and give more of an overview on why we chant this before class. I taught this student how to use a wall rope for adho mukha svanasana for spine traction, and also hang in rope sirsasana. We did supported sarvangasana with a chair and cross bolster setu-bandha. It was a supported, inverted sequence to take the edge off the frenetic holidays.

Now that the pressure is temporarily off for assessment, I feel I can teach with a bit more freedom and go back to poses that I have neglected teaching for a while–the basic salt and pepper poses that season a good practice. There will be plenty of time this year for the more exotically spiced asanas.

My good friend Sonia emailed me an audio recording she took on her phone of Geetaji’s inspiring speech during Guruji’s 99th birthday celebration last week. Geetaji pointed out that Mr. Iyengar never had to get a certificate, he just had devotion to his teacher and his teachings. He just had his practice which spoke for itself. Geeta said that one day Krishnamarcharya’s granddaughter asked Iyengar whom he considered his best student. She said Iyengar replied “Sundararaja.” Sundararaja was his best student. Now if I can only find this “Michael” guy and teach him a thing or two…

Happy belated birthday to Geeta and Mr. Iyengar! Thank you for all that you teach us.

A few days until my assessment

I’ve been a bit of a stranger on WordPress the past few months. Mainly in part because I am juggling teaching and my full time job, caregiving, and of course preparing for my Junior Intermediate I assessment this Friday and Saturday. I will be flying to the venue in Los Angeles.

At one point in Iyengar assessments you have to resign yourself to knowing what you know, being able to do what you can do, an hope the assessors see that you are working intelligently even if you can’t attain all of the poses on the syllabus.

There are a few poses I struggle with on this syllabus, but the one that has been really getting my goat is Eka Hasta Bhujasana, or one arm shoulder pose (it not called elephant trunk pose!!!!).  It has taken a village of Iyengar teachers to teach me this pose, and I am still having trouble with execution. I am a bit girthy which contributes to my difficulty, but also my long arms don’t seem allow me to get the torque I need to lift my buttocks off the ground.

My mentoring teachers Ray and Shelley, and their more advanced student Laurie have been very encouraging and getting me to try different strategies. Even Stephanie Tencer in Toronto gave me some good tips.

I feel in the Iyengar system that the poses that give you the most problems are the ones you can teach the best. Because you literally explore 100 ways to do them, or at least some action pertaining to them. So on Friday afternoon when I get my “sealed envelope” of six poses, I shouldn’t dread it if Eka Hasta Bhujasana is on the list. I won’t have the greatest demo, but I sure will give my students a plentitude of options to get into the pose.

Many blessings to you all!

…Three years later

I’m taking time from my busy life to commemorate BKS Iyengar on the third anniversary of his passing. His legacy, his system, and his community continue to thrive as a result of his tireless work in brining yoga from darkness and obscurity to light. It is quite fitting that the solar eclipse falls a day after his death’s anniversary. Like the eclipse, the darkness of his passing is temporary, and provides a different light cast on an ancient tradition which makes it fresh and more intriguing.

Even now that Mr. Iyengar has left this Earth, his influence continues to grow. Even Google has commemorated his accomplishments by giving him an honorary “doodle” on his birthday last year. In this era of gross commercialization in the yoga “industry” the Iyengar community has been steadfast in maintaining its standards and continues to produce high quality teachers.

As for me, I have been preparing for my Junior Intermediate I assessment in November. When one goes up for assessment, it never feels like you have done enough in your practice or your studies to prepare sufficiently.  My mentoring teachers Ray and Shelley have been tremendous in encouraging me during this process. I just have to have faith that I will be ready at that time. My readers won’t probably hear much from me until it is over, so my apologies in advance. I continue to appreciate your readership and will respond to any comments about my posts.

Many blessings!

Sequence as Mantra

It may not be necessary for all yoga practitioners to have a mantra practice. However, I do feel if you are earnest in your practice, you tend to develop one anyway as a consequence. Most Iyengar practitioners have had some exposure to the invocation of Patanjali, which is normally chanted before class. After Iyengar’s passing in 2014, some may have even heard the Guru Mantra which has been added to the end of the Patanjali Invocation.

Iyengar said a curious thing in one of his many writings to the effect that doing asana is like doing japa, or a practice of repeated sound forms or mantra-s. As I am heavily subbing for my teachers this month who are in China doing a teacher training, I have been writing out as many as three times as many sequences to prepare for classes.

Writing a sequence is much like writing an essay, or music composition. It is best to start with a theme. I have been taught to stay within a “clan” of poses or poses of a similar action. For example, standing poses or back bends or abdominal poses. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end to each good sequence. There is also a “sirsasana” and “sarvangasna” in each Iyengar sequence, even though you may do something in lieu of those poses. Typically, dwi pada viparita dandasana is substituted for sirsasana, and setu bandh is substituted for sarvangasana.  I have been studying long enough to see that all rules can be broken, but it is best to stay within logical limits unless there is a deliberate effect you are trying to achieve through the sequence.

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As I utter my daily mantra-s I notice too that they have a logical beginning, middle, and end. Take the Ganesh mantra of Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Most of the times mantra-s begin with the Pranava or OM. Then there is a seed syllable like “Gam.” Then there is a name of the diety Ganapataye.” Then the ending “Namah” which means this is not my “self”  or not my “ego.”

It is said if you utter a mantra enough times, you develop the siddhi of that mantra, or obtain the power that it beholds. Not an easy task. Some mantra-s are said to have be uttered thousands of times before this takes place.

However, if you do a sequence only a few times, you immediately understand its benefits and its limitations. In essence, the “siddhi” of the sequence is revealed to you much sooner than in the mantra practice.

As pictured above, I write my sequences in spiral notebooks and file them away once the book is completed. I have dozens of these filed away through my years of teaching. I like to look in the old ones to see where my practice and teaching have developed, or more importantly how they have stagnated.

Many blessings!

 

 

 

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.

native american

Definitely not firelog pose!

 

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…