Tag Archives: yoga

Finding relief when the world is off its rocker

What is it about September that brings out the worst in world news? We have had hurricanes, bombings, earthquakes, missile tests, hate groups, anniversary of 9/11 attacks, the list goes on. Most days when I don’t have to work early, I buy my mother-in-law breakfast and eat with her. She said this morning in her thick Japanese accent: “I watch scary news! Just like end of the world in Bible.”

I saw my childhood friend last year when I visited Albuquerque. During our catching up, he said that he was always upset for many years and couldn’t figure out why. Then he said one day his car stereo went dead. He was an avid listener of AM radio. He said with the silence, he became noticeably happier. His wife even noticed. Having worked in the news business for six years (that’s all I could take), I noticed too that when I quit the profession, I became remarkably happier.

We live in a world where we can honestly watch news every minute of our waking day and still work and have family life. How many check your Facebook, Twitter, Yelp while doing other things?

Silence is an undervalued commodity. We do not value silence in our culture, in fact it is often abhorred. And we are chronically distracted with devices and social media. I think our habits toward being distracted with electronic media have the same pattern as a fungus that grows. Once it sets its spores, it is hard to get rid of. People are looking for relief.

I came across an interesting article the other day: “Communal Silent Savasana Has Become Las Vegas’ Unlikeliest Craze.” Funny how things come full circle. I have long extolled the virtues of silence in Savasana, but now it is more clear than ever that we need to “steal silence” back from our constant bombardment of electronic media. When I teach yoga to my colleagues at work, I say to them “give yourself permission to relax for 5 minutes” before going into Savasana. I have been told that was the single most soothing thing they have heard all day.

Here is a link to a my tutorial on how to do a proper Savasana. If even that is too much, simply go to a quiet room and lie on your back for 10 minutes when you need to take shelter from our crazy world. It will make all the difference.

Many blessings!

 

 

 

 

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…Three years later

I’m taking time from my busy life to commemorate BKS Iyengar on the third anniversary of his passing. His legacy, his system, and his community continue to thrive as a result of his tireless work in brining yoga from darkness and obscurity to light. It is quite fitting that the solar eclipse falls a day after his death’s anniversary. Like the eclipse, the darkness of his passing is temporary, and provides a different light cast on an ancient tradition which makes it fresh and more intriguing.

Even now that Mr. Iyengar has left this Earth, his influence continues to grow. Even Google has commemorated his accomplishments by giving him an honorary “doodle” on his birthday last year. In this era of gross commercialization in the yoga “industry” the Iyengar community has been steadfast in maintaining its standards and continues to produce high quality teachers.

As for me, I have been preparing for my Junior Intermediate I assessment in November. When one goes up for assessment, it never feels like you have done enough in your practice or your studies to prepare sufficiently.  My mentoring teachers Ray and Shelley have been tremendous in encouraging me during this process. I just have to have faith that I will be ready at that time. My readers won’t probably hear much from me until it is over, so my apologies in advance. I continue to appreciate your readership and will respond to any comments about my posts.

Many blessings!

Sequence as Mantra

It may not be necessary for all yoga practitioners to have a mantra practice. However, I do feel if you are earnest in your practice, you tend to develop one anyway as a consequence. Most Iyengar practitioners have had some exposure to the invocation of Patanjali, which is normally chanted before class. After Iyengar’s passing in 2014, some may have even heard the Guru Mantra which has been added to the end of the Patanjali Invocation.

Iyengar said a curious thing in one of his many writings to the effect that doing asana is like doing japa, or a practice of repeated sound forms or mantra-s. As I am heavily subbing for my teachers this month who are in China doing a teacher training, I have been writing out as many as three times as many sequences to prepare for classes.

Writing a sequence is much like writing an essay, or music composition. It is best to start with a theme. I have been taught to stay within a “clan” of poses or poses of a similar action. For example, standing poses or back bends or abdominal poses. There is a definite beginning, middle, and end to each good sequence. There is also a “sirsasana” and “sarvangasna” in each Iyengar sequence, even though you may do something in lieu of those poses. Typically, dwi pada viparita dandasana is substituted for sirsasana, and setu bandh is substituted for sarvangasana.  I have been studying long enough to see that all rules can be broken, but it is best to stay within logical limits unless there is a deliberate effect you are trying to achieve through the sequence.

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As I utter my daily mantra-s I notice too that they have a logical beginning, middle, and end. Take the Ganesh mantra of Om Gam Ganapataye Namah. Most of the times mantra-s begin with the Pranava or OM. Then there is a seed syllable like “Gam.” Then there is a name of the diety Ganapataye.” Then the ending “Namah” which means this is not my “self”  or not my “ego.”

It is said if you utter a mantra enough times, you develop the siddhi of that mantra, or obtain the power that it beholds. Not an easy task. Some mantra-s are said to have be uttered thousands of times before this takes place.

However, if you do a sequence only a few times, you immediately understand its benefits and its limitations. In essence, the “siddhi” of the sequence is revealed to you much sooner than in the mantra practice.

As pictured above, I write my sequences in spiral notebooks and file them away once the book is completed. I have dozens of these filed away through my years of teaching. I like to look in the old ones to see where my practice and teaching have developed, or more importantly how they have stagnated.

Many blessings!

 

 

 

What’s in a name? The subtle differences between Sukhasana and Svastikasana

Before one of H.S. Arun’s classes in this past weekend’s workshop, he mentioned that Sukhasana (happy pose) and Svastikasana (cross pose) were different poses when instructing a student about another topic. Another student asked him “you mean ‘firelog’ pose? He laughed and said “there is no such thing as a firelog pose, that’s made up.” I asked him, “what is the difference between Sukhasana and Svastikasana?” He said “it’s in the feet,” and then moved on without explanation.

In the next day’s class, he built a whole sequence around the two poses. The short of it is that in Sukhasana the feet are passive, in Svasktikasana the feet are active. But there is much more to the story than that.

Student Chris was gracious enough to model these to poses after class today. Here is Sukhasana:

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From this angle you see that the feet are passive.  From this next angle you see what happens to the spine.

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Her left knee is slightly higher than her right which causes a subtle curve in the spine, or as Arun said “it looks like the student has scoliosis.”

Now here is Svastikasana:

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You can see the feet are now active. That gives this corresponding effect to the spine:

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You can see that her knees are now even and her spine is correspondingly straighter.

So should we throw out Sukhasna because it is not as symmetrical? Of course not. One of Sukhasna’s great features is that it is passive, unlike Svastikasana. That makes it more appropriate for chanting the invocation to Patanajali, or reciting mantras as there is a receptive element to the pose.

On a side note, Svasti, or Swasti denotes “well being” in Sanskrit. Unfortunately, the symbol of Swasti was stolen and used as a symbol of hatred, whereas before it was a sacred symbol of both Asian Indian and Native American cultures.

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Definitely not firelog pose!

 

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…

Ducks!

Hi all! I had taken about a month or so off writing when my dear friend Sonia encouraged me to start posting again in a kind email. The nice thing about not writing for a living is you can take a hiatus when your inspiration is lowered, or you simply have ran out of ideas to post about. In the past month we had unusually hot weather and low rainfall in Hawaii. I am finding a symbiotic relationship with my garden and my writing habits. In short, when my garden isn’t producing, I get writer’s block. Happily, a cold weather front came through the islands bringing lots of rain. So here are my fingers flailing on my keyboard again 🙂

As far as my yoga practice, I bit the bullet and signed up to take my Junior Intermediate I assessment this year. It is a bit scary to be going up for assessment this year. Compared to how I have been normally practicing for the past several years, this year would definitely land more on the mrdu end of the meter. I will let those who study the sutra-s figure out what that means.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t practiced though. I still teach all my classes and take some time when I can to get through a sequence or so. And I just got finished with a workshop with Laurie Blakeney who is now the IYNAUS assessment chair. In addition, I still do my mantra practices in the morning and evening. I honestly don’t see how I can get through the day without them.

My mentoring teachers are gracious and wrote me recommendations which are needed for the applications. They have been understanding of my family and personal needs this past year which has drastically changed my ability to regularly practice evening classes at the studio with them. I will post updates about my progress towards this goal. Just don’t be too hard on me if things don’t go the way they should. The J-one syllabus is tough!

As far as my garden, it continues to enrich my life in ways I never realized. I remember reading one of Masanobu Fukuoka’s books and he said that he would regularly get visits on his farm/garden from ducks who would graciously poop on his plants providing wonderful fertilizer. I felt kind of sad when he said they built a big highway by his property and the ducks could no longer cross safely, so he was subjected to spread his own pelleted chicken manure in their abscence.

Yesterday I went outside in my garden and found these two hooligans (see picture above) waddling about in my garden. They are ducks from the nearby marsh. My wife ran and grabbed some bread and fed them heartily. Don’t worry Home Yoga Practice fans, I won’t
“duck” out on another month without posting 🙂

Saying bye to an old friend

Tonight I attended services for Evelia Pineda Torres, who succumbed to breast cancer two weeks ago. The event tonight was a celebration of Evelia. There were about 250 people who gathered at the Elk’s Club in Waikiki in a beautiful sea side ceremony.

Even though it was a somber occasion, I was happy to see a lot of faces I haven’t seen for years and a whole lot of new ones. I was in sheer awe of the breadth of Evelia’s influence on not just the O’ahu yoga community, but other communities as well on our island. For example, there was a large contingent of Ultimate Frisbee enthusiasts. Evelia was a massage therapist and would offer the frisbee participants massages during competitions. She was well remembered by that group.

She was also an avid hiker and many who shared the trails with her were in attendance as well. Not to mention her neighbors, and family who flew in from her native Mexico. Her husband was surrounded by love and and support from her large community.

I have know Evelia since 1999-2000 when she was a student with Daws, my original yoga teacher. I remember her back then doing yoga-nidrasana, which is a pose where you have both legs behind your head lying on your back. That was her practice back then, and she had evolved even more through the years.

Many at the services said they were shocked when they found the news that she had stage four breast cancer which was announced in December. She continued to teach classes until just after Christmas. Her students remembered her as a strong teacher who challenged them, but also showed a tremendous amount of compassion and was encouraging to new students.

One of the ceremony’s speakers said that a theorem in physics is that energy never dies, it just gets transformed. Evelia’s light burned brightly in this plane, I’m sure she continues to radiate her divinity on her next journey. She will be very missed here on Earth.

*featured image courtesy of Iyengar Yoga Silent Dance Center Facebook page