Tag Archives: yoga

The Last Class

This past Saturday I taught my last class at Unity Church of Hawaii after 16 years. Long time students have moved away or gotten on to other things. Low attendance has been making it difficult to break even, despite rent being a nominal $25 per hour.  Towards the end, I wound up paying for most of the class out of my pocket. That was okay as I am gainfully employed.

The real culprit was the closing of a major highway that joined the two sides of the island. The Pali Highway succumbed to a landslide after heavy rains in February. During the week it can be contra flowed, but on weekends it is closed, making my commute to class twice as long.

That being said, my last four students were ones I have had for years. It felt like I was moving away from family. They come from very different walks of life. One woman works for the city and is an anime aficionado who takes care of her mother with dementia. Another is a retired woman who makes elegant Hawaiian clothing, and is the mother of a guitar player in a major rock band. One is an energy consultant who makes cities greener via clean energy policies. And lastly, one is an 85-year-old ophthalmologist who graduated from Harvard Medical School and is the surfing champion in his age division.

There were many more students over the years. Each taught me so much more than I could possibly teach them. I have extended them to join my other classes during the weekday. All have busy schedules. It seems so much of the modern 200 hour yoga trainings these days are designed to pack classes densely as soon as people can click a spot in the next class. But I doubt they train their students for this, letting go.

Now what will I do on Saturday mornings? Sleep in? Or perhaps take the opportunity to further my own yoga practice…

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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.

Geetaji 1944-2018

Very sad news from Pune. Geeta has passed two days after her father’s centennial celebrations. The world of yoga will mourn the loss of this legendary practitioner and teacher. My heart goes out to the Iyengar family, and all of my teachers who directly learned from her.

Geeta has written several books on yoga including Yoga: A Gem For Women, and has been instrumental in the teaching curriculum for Iyengar teacher assessments. This is a significant loss for all of us.

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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.

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.