A 2011 yoga calendar that reminds us what this path is truly about

 

AYC fundraising yoga calendar

2011 Ashtanga Yoga Center calendar

 

I had the good fortune to study with study with Tim Miller at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (AYC), his studio in southern California, this summer. One of the very cool people I met during my two weeks in Encinitas, Calif., was long-time AYC teacher Rich McGowan. Rich would often provide the drumbeat — heartbeat is how I think back on it — to our satsang sessions.

Rich attended most of the teacher training sessions during the first week, offering guidance, answering questions and bringing even more lightness into the room through his humor. (On a personal note, he helped me tremendously with my marichyasana D.)

Our teacher training group was sad to learn that, by the second week, Rich’s health had taken a turn for the worse. He was unable to complete the second week of teacher training.

Rich continues to face serious health challenges, and the wonderfully tight-knit and compassionate AYC community has pulled together for a couple different fundraisers. Even if you’ve never met Rich — even if you don’t practice yoga — you can contribute to his medical expenses while receiving a gorgeous 2011 calendar.

You can view some of the photos that are part of the calendar at sriBhagavati’s photostream.

All proceeds of this $18 calendar go directly to Rich (if, like me, you don’t live near AYC, you’ll pay just a couple dollars more and it’ll be shipped to you). The calendar is the work of Lorna Moy-Masaki (graphic art) and Michelle Haymoz (design concept and photography). Michelle took this photo of me with Tim Miller that I will always cherish.

Why do we practice yoga? Is it solely for ourselves?

We become devoted to the practice not just because of what it does for us as individuals, but for the orbit we get pulled into — an orbit full of  interesting, generous, compassionate and talented people without whom life just wouldn’t be the same. You can call it a sangha, a community, a family, or whichever term speaks most to you. I look at this calendar and each page is a beautiful reminder of beauty itself.

>>UPDATE: Read this post where I show you how the calendar doubles as a yoga flip book as well!

How to lose a practice in 10 days (or, what Madonna can teach us all about maintaining a yoga practice during the most hectic travel time of year)

Madonna in high heels, with one leg behind her head--because why not?

Madonna--in a bit of a bind?

Between work, family, and just life, it’s hard enough for most of us to maintain a truly consistent yoga practice. But when you throw holidays and travel into the mix, it can seem damn near impossible not to lose the yoga practice that you rely on to keep you grounded.

Maybe Madonna — who is, from what little I’ve read about her practice, a pretty committed Ashtanga practitioner — can teach us a thing or two about doing what you need to do to do yoga. You might have read recently about the outrage that emerged when Madonna was allowed to leave a stranded plane well before the rest of the passengers on her flight bound for London.

What’s worse, some bloggers wondered? Was it that Madonna dared to do some yoga in the aisles before her VIP departure?

I’m writing this blog post 430 miles from home myself, and I’ve traveled quite a bit in the past month — all of which has led me to think about ways to maintain a yoga practice while on the road. Here are five tips for me.

5. Take a cue from Madonna and do some yoga in the aisle.

Granted, Madonna and her entourage surely fly first class, where the aisles are luxuriously wide when compared with coach. But if you’re facing a long layover at the airport or stranded on a plane, I vote for doing whatever yoga you can fit in.

Earlier this year, on the way to the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif., for a teacher training program with Tim Miller, I posted a Facebook status update that read:

Rose Tantraphol highly recommends finding a quiet corner of the airport — esp if your flight’s been delayed for two hours and counting — and taking 25 breaths in a headstand. You’ll feel much better while providing fellow weary travelers with some free distractions.

Several of my friends liked the posts, and a few more gave left kudos as comments. I had found a quiet corner of a gate that wasn’t being used, and made a point to tell the nearest person there that I was about to stand on my head to release some tension. I thought she might be a little weirded out, but she shrugged and never looked up once.

Was the Material Girl being insensitive on that plane? My guess would be probably not. I absolutely understand if other passengers were frustrated that she was able to deplane hours before they were able to, but that’s a different issue than her doing some yoga in the aisle. It’s one thing to do bhastrika if everyone were trying to sleep on a red eye, but based on these accounts, I don’t see how this was inappropriately intrusive.

4. Use the opportunity to travel your yoga and drop in on classes in new studios.

I love checking out new studios whenever I travel. Some people learn more about the new city they’re in by running through local neighborhoods; I do the same thing by visiting local yoga studios. Drop-in classes are typically between $18 and $20 a class—not the cheapest way to go, but if you have the funds, it’s well worth it to spend the money and get to see how different studios have found their unique ways to share yoga with a community. It’s also a fantastic way to get outside your comfort zone and try new styles of yoga.

On this note, I just got a new iPhone, so let me know if you have a favorite app for finding local studios. I’m a planner, so I usually do research in advance of a trip and plan out all my studio options beforehand. But a studio-finder app would be great to have on hand.

3. Pack a travel mat (and maybe a heat source) when you’re prepared to practice on your own.

Especially with Ashtanga yoga, traveling provides a perfect chance to practice on your own. I find it challenging to motivate myself to consistently practice at home while I’m not traveling, because I live in a community with an amazing yoga studio. But it’s much easier to want to practice on my own when traveling.

I’ve practiced on my sister’s L.A. apartment balcony, a wooden dock in back of a beautiful Traverse City, Mich. bed-and-breakfast, a second-floor apartment in Montreal, Quebec, and the list goes on. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that every time I practice on my own, I learn something new. When I practiced on that narrow dock in northern Michigan, for instance, I was so surprised to realize that I’m far less connected to the earth — far less evenly grounded in the way my weight is distributed through my feet — than I had realized. Changing where you practice can change what you become aware of in your practice.

Hilltop Yoga, where I practice and teach yoga, is a heated studio where rooms are typically kept between 87 and 94 degrees. That means I am used to heat, and it really affects my practice when that external heat is missing and I feel cold (especially since you don’t have the benefit of other people’s body heat when you’re practicing alone). Whether heat is a crutch is fodder for another conversation, but lack of heat is, for me, probably the toughest part of practicing alone while traveling.

If you’re traveling by car and have room to spare, you might consider investing in a small space heater to take with you.

2. Remember that there are, classically speaking, eight limbs of yoga.

Postures, or an asana practice, represent just one limb of the eight-limb yoga path. If you’re pressed for time in between flights or family gatherings, see if you can at least find 15 minutes a day practicing another of the limbs of yoga outlined in the Yoga Sutras — pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (sense withdrawal) or dhyana (meditation) seem to make the most sense.

1. If all else fails, and you really can’t practice, roll it with — after all, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

In an ideal world, we’re all practicing yoga six mornings a week. Most of us don’t live in this utopia where we can honor this schedule every week of the year. So do your traveling, do what you can to keep up your practice, and if all else fails, use that lack-of-practice frustration that builds — on the level of the body, mind and spirit — to recommit that much more when you return home.

Those are my thoughts on maintaining a practice. How do you maintain your practice while on the go?

(Photo credit: http://ninieahmad.com/category/yoga-101)

[VIDEO] Three Questions ~~ featuring Doug Swenson

Doug Swenson workshop at Hilltop Yoga

Doug Swenson adjusts my parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle)

Doug Swenson spent this past weekend at Hilltop Yoga, offering workshops that touched on everything from the importance of cross-training to kriyas (internal cleaning techniques such as nauli). Doug began his study of yoga in 1969 — the year the Beatles recorded Abbey Road —  and travels the world teaching a unique blend of yoga that draws heavily from Ashtanga but weaves together different styles and influences.

The Old Town studio was packed for each of the three-hour sessions, which began with a discussion and led into a two-hour practice. The Grand River-facing windows quickly steamed up for each session, which stayed light thanks to Doug’s humor and laid-back style.

After the last workshop on Sunday, I asked Doug if he would be willing to spend a few minutes to video Three Questions, a new occasional series with yoga teachers and practitioners. Doug generously said yes.

Why is cross-training in yoga important?

How can someone begin a cross-training regiment?

How does a larger community benefit when individuals practice yoga?

Doug is constantly in motion, traveling internationally to give workshops. Check out his schedule.

Horsing around (London edition)

Horse-face posture

I was fortunate enough to have the chance to travel to London last week. It was my first visit there, and I hope it won’t be my only. Let’s get the obvious question out of the way – what’s going on in the photo?

This was the result of sheer playfulness. We stumbled on this perplexing statue of a horse’s face, and I couldn’t resist getting into vatayanasana. The Sanskirt translates into horse-face posture, so this was meant to be a visual pun of sorts for the geeky ashtangi. Vatayanasana — which involves having one leg in half lotus while the opposite leg’s foot is firmly planted on the floor — appears near the end of the second series sequence. According to Gregor Maehle, this posture begins the energetic wind-down of the series.

For this trip, though, this posture marked the energetic wind-up. As with any city of this size, and this much history, there was only time to taste the sights and sounds, from checking out the actual Rosetta Stone displayed in the British Museum to having Champagne afternoon tea (yes, this is a thing! You can have a glass of Champagne before the tea comes – fantastic).

If time weren’t an issue, I would have gone to a different yoga studio every day. I managed to make it to two traditional shalas – Ashtanga Yoga London in Central London, and The Shala in South London. Both were wonderful studios — extremely welcoming and very traditional.

In the yoga classes I teach, I will sometimes say that learning Ashtanga is like learning a language – one that allows you to communicate with a deeper part of yourself, and also one that allows you to roll out your mat anywhere in the world and be able to participate in a shared experience with a group you’ve never met before. That’s absolutely what happened for me in London. At Ashtanga Yoga London, a Mysore-style shala that is so traditional you practice your finishing postures in another room, I immediately felt the familiarity of the ujjayi breathing and the walls gently sweating from the collective heat built up that morning. At The Shala, I took a led primary series class, and on the first ekam (“one” in Sanskrit) of surya namaskara A (sun salutation A), I knew I was where I should be.

To be sure, there were some minor differences in sequences. I think of them as accents of a sequence, if that makes sense. These minor differences, such as whether you enter include a rounded-back baddha konasana (bound-angle pose) or only do a flat-back baddha konasana, probably most reflects when the instructor studied in Mysore with Pattabhi Jois. Although we say Ashtanga is the same sequence, it’s not exactly the same.

The most salient feeling I came away from my visits to the studios was how grounded I felt. Thousands of miles away from home, in studios I had never been in before, I felt at home because my practice was with me.

Padmasana

Padmasana in Trafalgar Square