Tag Archives: yoga

Sensitive to the changes of season

Yoga practice and gardening have much in common. The one thing that stands out is that one becomes very sensitive to nature and its forces. This is the time of year in Hawai’i when it is brutally hot and humid. The air is so thick, that senior teacher Joan White was giving a workshop this time of year and said the air actually had “weight” to it. However, there is usually one day in the month of October where the weather changes radically from hot and humid to constant rain. Just before that is the optimal time to plant seeds in the garden. You have to time it just right. Every night I am aware of any temperature drop and feel of rainfall. Once it starts, it doesn’t usually let up for a month or so.

To prep for this auspicious time I prep my garden area which has been overgrown with grass with a hand sickle. I cut back the grass and let it decay for a while which makes a mulch bed for the yet-to-be-sown seeds.

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Coming back from my trip a month ago has left me swamped with catch up paperwork at my regular job. Not to mention caregiving duties and surprise visitors. With the stress, the time change, and the weather, my immune system has lowered and I caught bronchitis. Lo and behold, at the peak of my cold, the time came to sow seeds.

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Not to be deterred, I plotted along and scattered all the seeds I’ve been storing for this occasion. Here are a few. I am trying a few “red” varieties this year like burgundy okra (seen above) red malabar spinach and red Kyoto carrots.

With all the seeds finally planted, I went back into my sick mode and saw a doctor. Turns out I have bronchitis. I have found a good remedy is Korean tofu stew. I usually can’t stand in due its intense hot temperature and spiciness, but its all I have been craving.

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As far as classes, I manage to teach as best I can in my state. It is very difficult to teach when you are not feeling well. However, I do feel that somehow teaching has gotten “easier” since I’ve been back. A lot of my students who have been a way for a while have been returning. There are a lot of injuries and issues, so I have to divide my students into groups. I never had to do that much before now.

We are on the second night of Navratri, and I can feel the grace of Brahmacharini, one of the nine manifestations of Durga celebrated during this time. She was said to be resolute and did tapas for 5,000 years until she met her goal. I always enjoy celebrating and trying to keep up with the time difference between here and India to “catch” the right goddess on the correct night.

This is an auspicious time. A time of sowing, a time of celebration, a time of season change, and a time of recovering after a long journey.

Many blessings.

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Can kindness be taught?

A while ago when I was attending weekly meditations with my teacher Tom, he said what I thought was a benign statement after our meditation. “Kindness is one of the rarest things you’ll find in the universe.” He is a kind man, so at the time I shrugged it off as just a normal statement you’d hear in any meditation group. Water is wet.

It isn’t until one has a few rough years under their belt when they realize how true and powerful that statement is. Kindness is one of the rarest things you’ll find in the universe. Even when I garden, I notice how certain plants attack each other for sunlight and root space. I notice how the insects prey on each other. I notice how the geckos prey on the insects and so on. At that level it isn’t personal, its just survival in nature.

As we are “evolved” human beings, we can discern whether or not we are kind to each other. More and more these days we are not. From rush hour traffic, to debating politicians, I doesn’t really pay to be kind in a competitive world. In fact, some may see it as a distinct disadvantage.

So at one point soon we have will to decide if this is the kind of world we want to live in. Do we just want to be nasty to each other, or do we want to at least get along enough to maintain our community?

It seems more and more that people come to yoga to find kindness from outside society. As yoga teachers, I feel it is our duty to provide a place for people to come and at least find some sort of respite from not only the outside world, but respite from themselves.

Can you teach people how to be kind? As a person with a background in psychology, I feel it is one of the most difficult things to teach. You can tell someone to suppress their unkindness, but you can’t make someone be spontaneously kind. From a Behaviorist standpoint, you can reinforce the behavior of people who do kind actions. But from the Person-Centered standpoint, one realizes that someone is kind no matter what the outcome and is not looking for a reward.

Now that 30 day challenges are new thing in yoga, I propose a 30 day challenge to find that side of you that is kind and make it noticeable to all around you with whom you interact. If rarity is valuable, and kindness is one the rarest thing in the universe, you will see your personal value leap quantumly.

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.

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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.