Tag Archives: workshop

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…

Laurie Blakeney workshop: doing fewer Asanas with more in them

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I am still reviewing my notes from the last workshop I attended with senior teacher Laurie Blakeney which ended two weeks ago. One thing I appreciate about Iyengar yoga is that it does not try to re-invent the wheel with new poses, but takes what is available and makes it better.

There were many new ideas I was exposed to during the workshop, but the one thing that left the biggest impression is the fact that she could have a two hour class and only do a handful of poses.  Like 6 to 10. She would start class with a concept. The large concept was drawing the inner legs into the abdomen. She kept that theme during the whole five days of the workshop, but it never got redundant. Only deeper.

What really took the cake for me was one intermediate level class where we spent 45 minutes working on Jatara Parivartanasa (stomach churning pose). First with abdomen awareness, then with bent knees, then with straight knees, then with a “J” shape, then with the perineum aligned with the crown of the head and a dozen more points. By then end we really had a deeper understanding of this pose and did not feel short changed that we didn’t learn a dozen new Asanas.

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One of my basic level students asked me if intermediate level classes were harder in her workshop. I answered that they were not as hard as her basic level classes, but they had more refinement and awareness that a basic level student may not appreciate as much as a seasoned student. Of course one also had to be able to do a 10 minute Salamaba Sirsasana with variations in the middle of the room as well!

I have noticed in my own practice and teaching since the workshop, I am more apt to repeat a pose a half dozen times instead of two or three like I normally do. Again I notice that each time something deeper and more magical happens.

Thank you Laurie for the wonderful workshop!

“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.