Tag Archives: Kofi Busia

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.

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200th post. Holy cow!

I suppose I have been busy for the past two-and-a-half years. This is my 200th blog entry. When I step back and think that each post is roughly 400 words which is a page-and-a-half, I have easily written the equivalent of a novel (although a very disjointed novel). Like any writer worth his salt, every now and then I go back and re-read my entries. I have to admit there are some posts that make me cringe, but most make me feel satisfied.

There I times when I feel I write about the same thing over and over again. In one of Kofi Busia’s talks, he reflected on his days with BKS Iyengar. He told Guruji “after all your teaching I have concluded that your system can all be boiled down to ‘legs straight, arms straight, spine straight.’ He then granted me with an advanced certificate.” As any good Iyengar practitioner knows, that is the general rule, but it is far more nuanced in how you get your arms, legs and spine straight. In a way, that is how I feel about my writing and this blog.

One other aspect about my blog I have noticed: I am radically changing with this practice. Earlier in my  blog, I wrote heavily on asana and biomechanics. At some point the spiritual side of my practice kicked in and wove its way into my writings. As I am also a mental health counselor, my background and practice with psychology has also found its way into my writing. Also having a recent death in the family has also influenced me quite a bit. I don’t consider myself an activist, but some of my posts are downright militant! I do notice I am passionate about defending yoga and the Iyengar style. I do see commercialism as a great obstacle to the evolution of the practice and write at length about that.

In some ways I feel I am a bit of a renegade in the Iyengar community as this is an unsanctioned blog. This is an Iyengar teacher’s perspective and not the Iyengar teachers’ perspective. But my fan base hasn’t complained yet and I have been reposted on the IYNAUS Facebook page many times over, as well as other countries’ Iyengar associations. And I continually get positive feedback from senior teachers all over the globe. So I must be doing something right.

I think we are all born with a siddhi, or spiritual power. As I peel away the layers, I think one of my siddhi-s is my ability to write. I never plan to write these posts, they just come to me at whatever time. After 15 minutes the words just get vomited out of my fingers without any real sense of doership on my part. I wonder if others have the same experience.

I am almost afraid to admit that I have other writing projects. One of them is the Sutra Discussion on reddit. As I am hopefully going to be ready to go up for my Junior Intermediate I certification next year, I feel I need to know the concepts in the first two pada-s on an in depth level. I read sutras daily and think about them. I feel this has been another catalyst in how my practice has transformed me. I like how reddit allows others regardless of their level of experience to discuss the sutras. I feel they are accessible for anyone who wants to go a little deeper and not as esoteric and unaccessible to the modern practitioner as some theorists purport.

As I have written before, I don’t have any great ambitions to be a writer and don’t plan on teaching yoga as a living any time soon. My work as a mental health counselor provides me a sufficient income, and jives nicely with my teaching schedule. Thank you for reading my rants, and may you stick around for my next 200 posts.

Nice to see Kofi after two years

As many of my readers know, I am not much of a workshop habitué. I’m not even much of a class habitué anymore with my full time job, three classes I teach, and family duties. I dearly miss my mentoring teachers’ classes. Needless to say, I squeeze in daily practice when and wherever I can, be it a quick rope practice after my morning class, a half hour at lunch at my work, or an afternoon home practice after I have taken care of my aging father-in-law’s endless needs.

A few times a year I do make an exception, and Kofi Busia has made it back to Honolulu after a two year absence and I was able to attend two of his workshop classes. I never go to Kofi to learn technique. My mentoring teachers have done and still do an excellent job of instructing me in that area. I go to Kofi to get a bit of perspective. He was one of BKS Iyengar’s original students when Guruji started teaching heavily in the West. Kofi was at Oxford and he was taken to Iyengar’s  class by his yoga teacher. Soon afterwards, Kofi would make trips to Pune to study directly with him. Here is nice “vintage” video of Guruji instructing Kofi in a 1985 London class. Kofi comes in around the 5 minute mark. This is when he practiced without the use of props–even without sticky mats!

He gave a nice Q and A before class. He acknowledged that this was first class he had taught to the Honolulu community since Guruji’s passing in 2014. “Is there anything you want to know about Iyengar?” Kofi asked the class. Such a vast question! I asked how many students Iyengar had in the early days. Kofi responded that there were 6 regular students for a long time when he was practicing with him in 1971. He said many of the students were asked to bring props with them when they would visit. This was before RIMYI was built, and Kofi said they pretty much practiced in Guruji’s living room and had to move the furniture around to make space for class. “That all ended when teacher name withheld brought 25 students to class one day. From then on it was packed classes all the time until Guruji’s passing.”

After the nice Q and A, we proceeded with asana practice. I tried to memorize the sequence, as Kofi’s tend to be a bit unusual, but got lost about midway through when he did Salamba Sarvangasana. That pose is normally put toward the end of class, but Kofi stuck it right in the middle. I am always perplexed at his reasoning for sequences which are quite deliberate. He also teaches upwards of 20 poses per 2 hour class, which in many ways reminds me of when I first started doing Iyengar yoga via Light On Yoga with the asana courses in the back of the book, of which contain upwards of 50 asana per class. I surrendered to the class once I stopped keeping track of the asanas which was much more satisfying.

Sadly, I had a case of acid reflux and in Halasana I had to come out early. Kofi gave me a concerned look and I told him my problem and sat out the remainder of the pose. The sequence culminated in Adho Mukha Padmasana which was very accessible to me at this stage in my practice. As we settled into Savasana, he chanted a beautiful mantra about Brahma from the Bhagavad Gita.

After class I thanked him. I asked him how he felt about recent bad press toward Guruji from the likes of Mark Singleton and Matthew Remski, who are heavily promoting a Guru-bashing tell all book about misconduct from lineage based pioneers like Pattabhi Jois and Iyengar who brought yoga to the West. “People have been bashing Guruji for years,” Kofi said, “this isn’t anything new.” Kofi’s statement reminds me that Guruji’s teachings have withstood and will stand the test of time in this era of commercialized yoga. He also made me realize it is the duty of an Iyengar certified teacher to attract new students with the integrity of the system. Thank you Kofi for the perspective.

“Your hips are sensitive to the commands of the feet” Kofi day two

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“Twenty five percent of the bones in your body are in your feet,” Kofi Busia began as he started the class in Supta Padangusthasana (reclined big toe pose). In tonight’s class, no strange sequences, but just straight up classic yoga asanas in what appeared to be a forward bend sequence. Kofi talked at length about the relationship between the feet and the hips.

He talked about how arthritis in the hips is directly related to how you use your feet incorrectly while walking. “The difference between us and our simian friends are that our feet stay rigid when we lift them off the ground,whereas a primate’s feet go limp,” said Busia as he related that concept of how we stand straight in Tadasana by using this rigidity in our feet like we do when we anticipate stepping on the ground. He talked about how in walking and running, our nervous system anticipates the “heel strike” of hitting the floor repeatedly, and how the bones slot into each other to accommodate each step.

Kofi’s sequence was subtle in how it released the hips. We did standing poses Utthita Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvakonasana, Virabhadrasana II, Utkatasana, and Prasarita Padottanasana, the rest were seated forward bends and reclined “difficult poses” like Supta Virasana and Matsyasana. In tonight’s class, I chose to to Supta Virasana without props (he does not give instructions on how to do the poses). Soon afterwards, he had us in Matsyasana as seen below.

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I love the internal process of these reclined Padmasana postures. You can literally feel every fiber of your groins release as the knees and the outer thigh get heavier on the ground. This can be painful at first, and all I could visualize were my thick thighs from years of competitive bicycle racing in my youth unwinding like a large dense python.

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Kofi then did Salamba Sirsasana and Salamba Sarvangasana in succession. He held us in Halasana forever (see Poses You Dread). I went through the whole gamut of emotions in this pose. What every Kofi was saying just sounded like listening to an Encyclopaedia Brittanica CD about hip structures playing in the background. This Halasana was so internal that I experienced glimpses of Pratyahara.

He then had us do a drop back setu bandha which I felt was very liberating. He held us here forever too.

Then, out of left field, he has us do Ardha Matseyandrasana II. I was never able to do this pose well and tonight I got my hand to the thigh! This seemed to be the target asana and the prize he was preparing us for all class.

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The twist was effective in releasing my tight back from the previous night’s class. I was able to ask him what the word he used last night for muscles. It was “mamsa” which is Sanskrit translated into flesh or meat and refers not just to the muscles, but to the ligaments and tendons. It is an aruyvedic term. Kofi appears to use many ayurvedic principles in his teaching.

There is always that sadness when class is over and another year will go by before I see Kofi again. The concepts I will take from this workshop will be that it is sometimes okay to do things in an unorthodox way when you know enough to keep yourself safe. I also have the confidence in “earning” an new posture in Ardha Matseyandrasana II.

Notes from an unorthodox Kofi class

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Kofia Busia is back in town. He is a longtime practitioner who was originally taught by BKS Iyengar. His classes never fail to challenge my thinking on yoga. Last night he broke all the rules. He did forward bends and back bends in the same sequence (a big no-no for traditional Iyengar teachers). He kept repeating three poses: Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), and Prasarita Padottanasana (Expanded Intense Leg Pose) and intersperced many poses in between this trilogy of different-clanned poses.

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He further upped the ante by teaching Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III) after Salamba Sarvangasana (Supported All Body Pose, or shoulder stand). We are traditionally taught that after Sarvangasana, there should be cooling poses on the way to Savasana. The one rule he stayed with is teaching Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Head Pose, or headstand) before Salamba Sarvangasana.

The way Kofi teaches is not the Iyengar method. Kofi just says the name of the pose in Sanskrit and has you fill in the blanks. He rarely makes corrections. When he does make manual adjustments, it’s to get people deeper into the pose. 

While in the pose,  he will tell some story or anecdote which somehow relates to his sequence. Last night he talked about the circus attraction of a knife thrower and the live target. He said the trick is to get the knife as close as possible to the target without hitting it. He related that to the odd sequence he was teaching. He said we have to use our internal matter (I cannot recall the Sanskrit word he used) that is not just the muscle, but all the “hardware” of our being to allow us to perform each asana safely despite the odd order of poses. He also stated that all the great artists in history first learned the rules, and then broke them to create something new.

He also talked about how people who are masters in their craft deliberately add obstacles to their practice. He told how Billie Jean King would compete against two men at the same time. He told about how a writer in England went through the whole play of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and took out words with the letter “I” and “recast” them with another word. Thirdly, he talked about how Jazz Guitarist Django Reinhardt, who lost use of some of his fingers, but mastered his instrument despite his disability. Kofi said that other jazz guitarist taped their fingers to try to emulate Reinhardt’s style.

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As I am writing this the next morning, I notice that the sequence did not injure me, but my back is a bit stiff. I consulted another student in the class who said her back is stiff too. I will return tonight to his class to see what he conjures up next. Stay tuned!!!