Tag Archives: Iyengar

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.

 

Advertisements

A trip to the Northwest yields great bounty

My wife and I just returned from a trip to the Northwest which included stays in Portland and Seattle. I was in Portland to take my Intermediate Junior I assessment. I’ll tell you about that later. My wife and I fell in love with that city. It is very well planned with excellent public transportation options, cutting edge restaurants, and a vibrant culture.

We then took a road trip from there up to Seattle and did the whole tourist bit including the famous fish market where sellers throw whole salmon around like a football. Originally it was to save time from walking the fish from the ice to the counter. But as it became popular, throwing salmon became it’s own attraction.

img_1199

More than anything, this was an important trip for me because it was the first time my wife have been able to travel together in about four years since her father started getting ill and then eventually passing away. Since his passing, we have had to work as caregivers for my mother-in-law. Her brother agreed to take care of her mother while we were able to get away.

We drank up the Seattle highlights including the Chihuly exhibit by the Space Needle. My wife and I are inspired by Chihuly’s works which are massive glass sculptures. This exhibit had a glass blowing demonstration where the exhibitor talked about her journey. She said when she was 15 she asked the local glass blowing artist to learn and he agreed to let her sweep the floors. He would teach her new things every time she came in until she was able to safely create glass art on her own. Now she has a degree in glass blowing and makes her own pieces. As she talked about her apprenticeship I reminded me of the Iyengar teaching process.

img_1230

Speaking of which, I retook the teaching portion of the assessment that I did not pass last year. After the first meeting I opened up my envelope and it revealed my sequence. I spent the rest of the night and part of the next day mapping out the actions in the sequence and finding links. I conducted the 40 minute class and finished my last pose right at the buzzer. I like to snap pictures of myself after the assessment because the face tells the tale.

img_1186

Later the next day I was getting a coffee at the original Starbucks location in Pike’s Place. I got a buzz on my phone indicating an email. The title said Congratulations! After five hard years of training and personal hardship, I passed my Junior Intermediate I certification.

…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.

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!

 

 

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!