Anatomy of a yogi’s suitcase

When I went to Mt. Shasta earlier this year, most of my suitcase was filled with yoga clothes, since I figured I would sweat through the outfit worn for the morning yoga session, and would want a change of clothes for the post-hike workshop.

This week, however, I packed for a trip not focused on yoga. We are headed to Florence, Italy. Believe me, I can’t believe it myself.

Even though yoga isn’t the focus of this trip, I don’t want to disrupt my six-day-a-week practice, so I’m taking what I need. I laid out my Mysore rug (3) as the bottom most layer of my suitcase. That rug is so versatile — I can fold it up and use it as a meditation cushion, and I can roll the edges to use as support in certain poses I’m working on (can anyone say pasasana?).

Next, I slid to the left vertical side of the suitcase a thin, cheap ($9.99), rolled-up yoga mat (2) that I had picked up a while ago at the discount retailer Marshall’s for just this kind of trip. I’m doing this for a couple of reasons — one is weight. Even one pound over the weight limit, and a piece of checked luggage on this international flight goes from free to $75. The mats I usually use under my rug are heavier, so I’m leaving those at home. The other reason is space. We all know that on international trips, you need to assume you’ll be coming back with more than you left with, even if shopping was not your intention. So while I of course prefer not to be wasteful, I know that if worse comes to worse, I can leave the cheapo mat behind.

I bring only tanks (1 and to the right) made of light-weight wicking fabrics when I think I won’t have time to do laundry. While it’s hard to see, I packed my quick-drying Be Present pants (6) for the same reason. I’ve got a light cover-up from Chicago’s yogaview studio (5) — I rely on these types of opaque tops to keep me warm until usually the surya namaskara B. Not pictured because it’s buried is a black wicking jacket I can wear over that. There’s a matching pair of black (again, wicking) pants (4) that can double as casual pants or pajamas. I made sure to take one full set of yoga clothes in my carry-on, just in case the airline loses my suitcase and my belongings arrive far later than I do. Again, I figure at worst, you can find a makeshift practice space. But practicing in jeans or dressier pants just doesn’t work out well. :-) (If I could have fit my Mysore rug in my carry-on, I would have! I have an attachment to this rug, but I also know I need to learn nonattachment when it comes to the rug, even though we’ve been through so much together.)

Between asking ashtangis I know and doing some quick Google searches, I only found one website for Ashtanga classes based in Florence, and the classes are only for 60 minutes. I don’t even know if the studio will be open, since some yoga studios in the U.S. and abroad seem to close around the last week of the year. I’ll investigate studios further when I arrive, but I’m thinking it’s more likely my yoga will stay in the hotel room rather than take place in nearby studios, so I didn’t pack a lightweight, fabric mat bag.

How do you yoga-fy your suitcase for traveling?

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Turning down the silence in a yoga room

It’s 1:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep, despite taking four Benadryls over the course of the evening to fight off what I’m hoping is pet dander allergies (as opposed to the onset of a cold). If it weren’t for this little space heater next to me, the only sound here on the second floor of my future in-laws’ house would be the sporadic clicking of this MacBook keyboard.

Observing this near-silence has brought me to a topic I’ve been wanting to blog about: the words that fill the space of a yoga studio. It’s hard not to think at least a little bit about verbal instruction as a yoga student, since some teachers are so gifted at it and some really are not. But I sure have thought quite a bit about verbal instruction since the very first time I had to get up, during yoga teacher training, to lead a class through a sequence.

As a journalist, I learned it’s much harder to say less than to say more. One of my journalism instructors liked to tell us, “Drown your kittens.” When you first start writing, you get attached to your words, and when you look at an article, you can’t see anything that can be cut. You’ve got to do it though, even if it feels like drowning your kittens. In print journalism, you’ve got to do it for space considerations, for one. But more important, you produce higher quality work — better writing — when you’ve carefully considered the need for each phrase, each word.

I think it can be a very strong impulse for yoga teachers who don’t teach in the silent Mysore method to use words to do it all: explicate proper alignment in poses, keep students safe, talk students through challenges, and inspire them along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. The key is striking a balance. I’ve been in yoga classes where the instructor didn’t seem to say enough to be clear, and I’ve been in classes where the instructor suffered from verbal diarrhea. Yoga classes taught in a stream of consciousness narrative fashion are the most distracting ones for me, because once I latch on to the steady flow of words, the more I dissect what’s being said rather than turning my brain off so that I can be present on the mat.

The longer I teach, the less I try to say with my words and the more I try to say with my hands. In an Ashtanga class, I try to be a steady drumbeat with the Sanskrit counts and the counts of five breaths in each pose. It’s definitely an acquired skill that takes experience and keen awareness, and — like a yoga practice — it’s something to be continually refined.

In short, it’s not easy.

Angela Jamison wrote a thought-provoking post on the AY:A2 blog about the poverty of verban instruction:

Pattabhi Jois started out saying that ashtanga method was 5% theory, 95% practice. He later scaled that back to 1% theory. Perhaps the 5% was getting abused.

Talking about experience tends to insulate us from a moment’s raw intensity, from subtle layers of experience, and from the transience of pain and pleasure.

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Read the entire post here.

This reminds me of something striking that New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar said during one of the Wesleyan Writers Conference panels I attended in 2004. I found a written synopsis online of the same thought. Larissa talks about how interviewing is “not a normal conversation”:

You want them to talk. One of the ways that you can do that is by training yourself not to do what you would usually do. Say a silence falls; you might try to fill it. Silences are awkward and hard to take, especially if you don’t know a person very well. I first thought about this when I heard a story about Joan Didion, a very famous journalist who has written for the New Yorker in the past. She is incredibly, paralyzing shy. She’s also very tiny. And when she meets a stranger, she is just struck dumb and totally terrified. And apparently, the effect this has on her subjects is that, because she is so nervous, they will blurt out just anything, just to fill the silence. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And it’s true. It’s almost as though there’s a sort of equilibrium that has to be found. If you shut up, they have to speak. Otherwise, it’s unbearable, it’s too uncomfortable. And I really began to learn this when I started to read transcripts of my interviews. I heard myself making the most idiotic mistakes. They would say: ‘And then I took the ax and was about to —‘ and I would break in with, ‘What’s your favorite color’ because I wasn’t listening to what they where saying. I was just thinking of something else. I wasn’t shutting up.

Whether it’s writing, interviewing or teaching yoga, it’s an important process to examine our proclivity to turn down the silence by turning up the volume (both decibel and quantity) of words.

What do you think about words that fill the space of a yoga studio?

(Photo credit: “Q is for Quieted” via bmhkim’s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Yoga mat, check. Mysore rug, check. Santa hat…check?

Is it just me, or are there only about a dozen ashtangis in the States right now? I feel like Ashtanga yoga practitioners are all either already in Mysore — practicing, blogging and tweeting away — or on the cusp of departing for India.

Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor posted this wonderful link to a Facebook event — or an attempt at an event, anyway. The idea is to have everyone show up to the led class being held at the Mysore shala on Christmas Day in a santa hat. It seems that there are some logistical challenges to making this happen, but I think the whole idea is a hoot, even if it doesn’t pan out.

20111224-193723.jpg I’m posting this from a tiny little town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula called Quinnesec (population: 1,187), on a holiday visit with my fiance’s parents. (I’ve been saying “Iron Mountain” as shorthand, because people in Michigan know that as the town that Tom Izzo‘s from, but Iron Mountain is actually the larger town over, with some 8,000 or so residents.) But when I practice tomorrow — rolling out my mat and rug in the beautifully finished attic we stay in when we visit here) — I’ll be wearing an energetic santa hat, trying to connect to some of the light-hearted energy emanating from the shala in Mysore.

Happy holidays!

>>Update 12.25.11 — Check out my comment below for links to photos of yogis rocking their inner Kris Kringle.  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Can’t they just label food ‘good for you’ and ‘bad for you’?

20111223-185932.jpg

 

A client sent our office a box of fabulous Fabiano’s chocolates, a favorite in Lansing, Mich. The guessing game of what filling awaits a bite used to be fun. While the giddiness is still there for me when it comes to a holiday gift box of good-quality chocolates — will it be salty? maple-infused? — I have to be more careful, thanks to blood work a couple years ago showing my allergy to peanuts and, surprisingly, sesame seeds and derivatives (hummus, made of tahini, is out, for example). This afternoon, I bit into one, immediately realized it was peanut butter, and spit it out. Undeterred, I enjoyed a few other pieces featuring everything from a raspberry burst to a minty center.

The peanut and sesame seed/oil allergies are known quantities. By comparison, with my recent negative results for gluten sensitivity, I don’t know what else compromises my health. The food journal I’ve been keeping hasn’t exposed any magic bullet yet, but I want to share some of the recommendations I received in response to my post on the celiac tests in case it helps anyone else struggling with a similar question to mine: What am I eating that makes me feel bloated and ugh so much of the time?

Not so fast

Juliana (Yoga Daze blog) and Emily (Love and Cinnamon blog) cautioned me against completely trusting the blood work for signs of celiac disease, saying either they or someone close to them also tested negative, cut out gluten anyway, and experienced a remarkable and positive difference. Hannah (Balancing on Two Feet blog) suggested an elimination diet. Read their full comments.

Chuck corn

Stormy Nosse, an ashtangi I met last year at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, shared her thoughts based on experience and years of studying nutrition. Her advice: Consider cutting out corn. On an intuitive level — based on how ubiquitous corn-based products are in our country, this piece of advice really appealed to me, and I’m already trying to implement it. I try not to eat tortilla chips like I used to, but I do snack and I do crave chips, so I’ve tried chips made from lentils and from black bean, and really like both.

Examine thyroid issues

Dave from Jackson Hole, Wy. asked if I had ever considered hypothyroid issues, and pointed me to “Thyroid ‘Hell’th,” D’ana Baptise’s blog posts chronicling her journey with this issue. In the last installment of the 2009 series, Baptise writes:

I felt compelled to spend time on this topic because I knew there were a lot of us feeling like something is just wrong, and yet we aren’t being taken seriously. I also wanted to write to say that even if you are the most staunch ‘all natural, completely organic’ person, you may still have thyroid issues and no amount of organic spinach will cure it or help you feel better.

Baptise goes on to list what she has found to be helpful. Read the entire post here.

Not more than a day apart from when Dave wrote me about hypothyroid, a friend of mine stopped me at the yoga studio to ask if I had looked into thyroid issues. She had had adrenal drainage problems, and when she addressed that, symptoms similar to mine went away.

I’m definitely going to ask my physician and acupuncturist about thyroid issues.

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience and advice with me. I’m convinced this is all a good thing — a way for me to finally pay closer attention to what I put into my body. Rather than rely on external markers of healthiness — i.e., what’s supposed to be good or bad for me — I’m really working to slow down and tune in to what my internal machinations are telling me about how various foods affect me. That brings me back to the food journal. I guess there has been one clear result — and it’s that as much as I have come to love it, the protein-packed wonder known as quinoa does not make me feel very good. Quinoa leaves me feeling bloated, with the urge to burp to relieve the pressure. Guess I can’t stock up on quinoa cakes from Plum Market’s deli case the next time I’m in Ann Arbor for an Ashtanga class.

(Photo credit: Quinoa by edibleoffice via Flickr Creative Commons.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Thinking, fast and slow — about yoga, gurus and everything else

Illustration by David Plunkert, via The New York Times

Thinking, Fast and Slow is sitting next to me right now, and I’m so into it that I debated whether to write this post or keep reading. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, immediately tells the reader that his aim with the book can be boiled down to what he would like to happen with watercooler conversations. He’d like this text to:

improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgement and choice, in others and eventually ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgements and choices often cause.

It’s a seriously ambitious goal, to be sure, and Kahneman’s important text offers nothing less than a fascinating approach to understanding when we can and can’t trust our intuition.

Intuition is an interesting thing — especially in the context of yoga, since one of the many benefits of the practice is that it’s designed to help us see through the veil of illusion. Sometimes — often? — our conditioned minds get us into trouble. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations — or the spinning — of the mind. Once we quiet the mind down, can Thinking, Fast and Slow help us think more clearly about thinking clearly off the mat, in our day-to-day lives?

This next passage somehow reminded me about all those times that, as students, we swear our teachers just read our mind. How did they know that was the adjustment I was craving? How did they know my back/hips/[insert body part] needed that pressure? How did they fix that back/hips/[insert body part]?

We have all heard such stories of expert intuition: the chess master who walks past a street game and announces ‘White mates in three’ without stopping, or the physician who makes a complex diagnosis after a single glance at a patient. Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous. Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvelous than the striking insights of an experienced firefighter or physician — only more common. (p. 11)

I kind of loved thinking about this idea in the context of our relationships with our most cherished teachers, who never cease to amaze us. Trust your guru, yes. Be grateful for, and moved by, the expertise and the inspiration. But remember that you have incredible everyday intuitive abilities as well.

That said, Thinking, Fast and Slow is about how to discern the quality of intuitive decision-making versus rational decision-making. Sometimes our gut is plain old wrong — so how do you know what you can rely on? You’ll simply have to read the book — and I highly, highly recommend that you get it sooner rather than later (one for yourself and one as a holiday gift, perhaps?). If you need more encouragement, read this New York Times review, this Washington Post review and this Financial Times review.

In any case, this post has kept me from the book long enough. I’m headed back in. Ciao, for now.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Links on the benefits of yoga + add your favorite benefit for a chance to win a relaxing eye pillow

A recently posted Elephant Journal piece featuring Kino MacGregor discussing agni and samskaras has been making the rounds in my Facebook and Twitter social sharing spaces this weekend. It’s not a new concept for anyone steeped in a yogic practice, such as Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, that has an emphasis on tapas — a burning away, a purification. Given the video’s level of sharing — nearly 1,500 Facebook shares alone since its posting yesterday — it has clearly struck a chord.

There was also some sharing among my friends this weekend of a Forbes.com piece from this summer. The article, “Penetrating Postures: The Science of Yoga,” talks about how yoga brings about:

…measurable changes in the body’s sympathetic nervous system – the one charged with propelling us into action during the ‘fight or flight’ response to stress. However, because our lives today include business emails at 10 o’clock at night and loud cell conversations at the next table, our stress response often lingers in the ‘on’ position at times it shouldn’t. Yoga helps dampen the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions, but it can wreak havoc on the body when one is chronically stressed. So reducing the body’s cortisol level is generally considered a good thing.

Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards. All three neurotransmitters are the targets of various mood medications like antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs.

The article also touches on how yoga can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and positively affect the immune system.

I’m noting these two links for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s always interesting to think about the Western science behind why yoga makes us feel the way it makes us feel, and the more Eastern yogic science of how this practice helps bring clarity to the question of how best to live our lives.

The other reason I’m noting them here is that it’s time for the second of two YogaRose.net holiday giveaways. The first round of the holiday giveaway was open to blog subscribers. This round  is open to anyone who responds in the comments section in answer to the question:

Name one totally unexpected, absolutely surprising or simply wonderful benefit that yoga has brought to your life.

The fine print:

  • The last giveaway was open internationally (and, indeed, earlier this week, I shipped one of the gifts to Scotland). This one is open only to those living in the continental United States. (Sorry! But the envelope is already stamped and ready to be dropped in the mail, so I have to be more restrictive on this one.)
  • I will randomly draw the winner at 11 p.m. (EST) on Monday, Dec. 19. Check your email that evening or the next morning, because the winner will have until 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20 to get back to me with an address. If that winner doesn’t, I’ll draw again and announce the new draw time.
  • Subscribers are encouraged to participate. (The only subscribers who can’t win are the ones who won in the first round — you guys can certainly throw down a response, though!)

The prize for this round — especially fitting when we’re thinking about some of yoga’s relaxation-related benefits — is this gorgeously blue, herbal eye pillow made by my multitalented friend Jade Sims.

Brand spanking new, handmade herbal eye pillow by Jade Sims

>>Update 12/22/11 On Tuesday, the morning after the random drawing, I mailed out the eye pillow to winner Christina D. Congrats, Christina, and enjoy! Many thanks to everyone for sharing your responses.  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

5 yoga groups you can help today + cast your vote now for a charity in the real Mitten State

Bent on Learning <–> Prison Yoga Project <–> Street Yoga <–> Yoga Activist <–> Yoga Bear <–> 2011 Martin Waymire Gives Project

The holidays really bring out the best in people when it comes to supporting those who are struggling in one way or another. It’s a beautiful thing, especially when holidays can also trigger incidents such as the one in which a Black Friday shopper pepper-sprayed other customers to snag a discounted Wii.

Are you planning on taking your yoga off the mat this holiday season? If you want to, but don’t know how, I’ve listed five organizations below that you can support right now (and there’s a bonus option at the end!). I should say that I don’t know a ton about any of these organizations — they just happen to have crossed my radar at some point (usually thanks to Twitter or blogs). I encourage you to find out more, if you’re interested in helping. And I know this is just the tip of the iceberg, so please share others you want people to know about.

Bent on Learning

Eddie Stern urged over Twitter today,  “Give inner peace to inner city kids!” and included a link to Bent on Learning:

Since 2001, Bent On Learning has taught lessons from the yoga mat to inner city kids
in New York City public schools – during the school day, in the classroom, where the
learning happens. With your support, we can continue to bring this important program
to more schools and more children next year.

$25 Gives a child 3 yoga classes
$175 Gives one child weekly yoga classes for one year.
$500 Provides yoga mats to 75 kids.
$2,000 Funds a yoga class (25+ kids) for one semester.
$4,000 Funds a yoga class (25+ kids) for one year.

Prison Yoga Project

The prolific bloggers over at The Confluence Countdown today posted this:

By giving prisoners a practice that can help their self-control — maybe keep them from buying drugs, retaliating in a fight or worse — [founder James] Fox hopes to reduce the numbers of people who go into and out of prison.

Read the whole post here and then consider if you’d like to donate a book to the project.

Street Yoga

From their website:

Street Yoga is a non-profit organization that teaches yoga, mindful breathing, and compassionate communication to youth and families and their caregivers struggling with homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction, trauma and behavioral challenges so they can grow stronger, heal from past traumas, and create for themselves a life that is inspired, safe, and joyful. Our programs are based on solid evidence that yoga helps with physical well being, depression, anxiety, trauma and PTSD.

Read more about the organization and follow @streetyoga on Twitter.

Yoga Activist

I got this email from Yoga Activist today:

Yoga Activist is so grateful to the teachers, students, partner organizations and sponsors that help make yoga accessible to trauma survivor communities. Through the diligence of these volunteers and sponsors, Yoga Activist supports over 60 yoga outreach programs in DC, Maryland, Virginia, New York, California, Ohio, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.

By preparing teachers, tracking programs to measure success, building community and recognizing excellence in service, Yoga Activist provides the backbone of support that is vital to the success of yoga outreach.

Yoga Bear 

Yoga Bear is probably the yoga charity I’ve known about longest:

Yoga Bear is a national 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to promoting more opportunities for wellness and healing to the cancer community through the practice of yoga.

Through the Healing Yoga Project, partner yoga studios around the country offer free or donation-based yoga classes to cancer patients and survivors.

Finally, here’s a bonus way to help out others before you even leave this blog post!

Help my workplace give to a local charity

With every passing year, I feel as if more and more people in my orbit choose to give up some amount of gift-giving to instead support a charity. It’s very inspiring, and, I think, simply the right thing to do. My family and I no longer exchange gifts, choosing to adopt a family in need instead. Last year, colleagues at my firm, Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, decided to take the budget that had been set aside for buying holiday swag for clients to instead donate to local charities. We’re doing it again this year. “Michigan Heroes: People Who Save Lives and Protect Us” is the theme of our 2011 Martin Waymire Gives Project. The way we parcel out the funds is by collecting votes. We’re taking votes until Friday, Dec. 16, 2011, so head on over and cast your vote now (even if you’re nowhere near the real Mitten State) to help out mid-Michigan charities.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Starting Ashtanga second series and tossing that ‘collection of asana trophies’


Different Ashtanga instructors have a different answer to the often-asked “When can I start Ashtanga second series?” Philadelphia-based David Garrigues, who was certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga yoga, says the following near the end of a new instructional YouTube video about pasasana (noose pose):

It’s after you’ve made a very mature, sustained effort in the primary. And that does not mean binding in this or that or doing any posture or dropping back.

This summer, Kino MacGregor, who is also certified, released “Are You Ready to Start the Intermediate Series?“, a short YouTube video addressing just this topic. In the video she hits on key milestone primary series poses and then says:

The most crucial and fundamental test of your ability to move into the second series is your ability to stand up and drop back from backbending, or urdvha dhanurasana.

The description of this video offers a more succinct answer:

Generally you want to have a firm foundation in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series before considering moving into Second Series. You will know that this is established once you feel stable in these postures and movements: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, Marichyasana D, Supta Kurmasana (posture and jump back) and Standing Up and Dropping Back from Backbend/Urdhva Danurasana.

The summary continues, and here’s what I think is critical to keep in mind, especially for Type A yogis accustomed to pushing hard and flying fast in their careers, personal lives and yoga practice:

The Primary Series is a foundational and fundamental part of the journey. There is really no need to rush, when you’re ready it will be more than evident and your teacher will surely encourage you to start.

I see this proclivity to rush at the power yoga studio where I teach Ashtanga — students who try primary series a few times and then move on to mainly take second series classes (the studio offers only led classes, and the studio’s policy is that second series is open to anyone who wishes to take it). In most cases, students who take this route of leap-frogging over primary series excel in everything they do, including yoga. I deeply disagree with practicing second series this way, but I understand the impulse, especially for power or vinyasa-flow yogis who only dabble not in the Ashtanga practice, but in Ashtanga classes. (Yoga in the Dragon’s Den, by the way, yesterday asked, “Is it possible to compartmentalize Ashtanga in one’s life?” It’s a thought-provoking post sure to rile some. Check it out.) The mentality is sort of, well, you can only hit so many classes in a week — why spend money and time on a class you don’t particularly want to be in?  Second series rocks it out with poses like pincha mayurasana and eka pada sirsasana and a float into bakasana. Why stay grounded when you can take flight?

Second series can be exhilarating on many levels, especially compared to the much more low-key, grounding (and, to some, boring) practice of primary series. The backbends, extreme hip openers and arm balances found in the intermediate series offer an intense challenge with big payback — physically, energetically (oh, that shiva and shakti energy!), on the level of emotional release (all those backbends), and, in my humble opinion, on the level of the ego for some.

Noose for the ego

Ganesh is the 'wielder of the noose'

 

But it seems as if the intermediate series — called nadi shodhana, or nerve cleansing — was designed with ego in mind. The very first pose is an incredibly challenging one — a true gatekeeper of the series, when practiced according to Mysore tradition in which you don’t move on to a new pose until you have the pose before it. Pasasana is a balancing twist. Garrigues talks about how hard it is for most people (I’m in this group for sure) to make progress in this pose. He then says:

It’s an ego check is what it is. A noose that hangs your ego. So you have to get a different reason to practice other than collecting asana trophies.

What a beautiful way to put it.

By the way, both Garrigues and MacGregor are featured in the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid, if you want to keep up with their videos, blog posts, tweets and more.

Last but not least, here is the full Garrigues video. The first 12 minutes break down the pose. Starting at the 12:13 mark, he talks about second series. Hear more about Ganesh around the 12:45 mark. (If you want even more on the noose, you can read Garrigues’ blog post about pasasana, which includes a video on ways to lengthen the Achilles tendon.)

(Image credits: Screenshot of David Garrigues’ video on pasasana (top); Ganesh via mutantMandias‘ Flickr stream (bottom))

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Holiday giveaway for YogaRose.net subscribers + the catch

First, the holiday giveaway. Second, a catch and an apology. Third, a request that involves an email selection.

I really appreciate all of my YogaRose.net readers. But there is a special place in my heart 😉 for subscribers, because you at some point decided that you’d be willing to put up with additional emails in your inbox to receive this content. I’ve worked in corporate America, and I know what a monster that inbox can be. So thank you.

I’m reserving two of the items shown above as giveaways for subscribers. I’m not doing this to gain more subscribers or readers (I work in the marketing world, so I accept that that’s a valid assumption). I really just want to thank the folks who read, comment, share and generally get engaged.

But here’s the thing — the catch, if you will. I am once again switching the service that delivers these post notifications to your email. You guys were nice enough to re-up when I switched from WordPress.com to WordPress.org in September. The reason I’m switching again — and I promise this is the last time — is that the email service available on WordPress.com, which I prefer to the one I’m currently using, just became available to those who have self-hosted WordPress blogs. (I am really sorry for this inconvenience!) The benefit of this email service is that you can see the graphics for each post and read the entire post in the email itself — so you don’t have to take that extra step of going to the blog itself.

If you want to remain a subscriber, please confirm the notice you received in your email inbox about the switch. If you do not want to remain a subscriber, you don’t need to do anything — you will simply stop receiving emails once I delete this service.

Back to the contest. On Saturday, Dec. 10, I’ll put everyone’s name into a hat — my big floppy prAna hat that I took to Mt. Shasta! — and draw two names. I’ll email those folks, who need to choose by Monday, Dec. 12 at 8 p.m. EST. (First come, first serve in terms of choice.) If I don’t hear back from one or both, I’ll pick another winner(s) with a new deadline. I’ll ship anywhere the U.S. Postal Service is willing to deliver to. (The third piece will be the item I mail out in a second giveaway for anyone who would like to enter.)

By the way, I know email is not the only way to subscribe. Anyone who reads via RSS — send me an email (ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com) saying that’s how you read this, and I’ll throw your name in the hat.

Finally, the choices:
1. Astanga Yoga As It Is by Matthew Sweeney
2. A beautiful eye pillow made by my friend Jade
3. Learn to Float DVD by David Robson

>>Update: Dec. 18, 2011. Congrats to the winners! 

In a few days, the two winners of this giveaway will hopefully be receiving their packages. I mailed both out four days ago.

Congrats to Bill Kringe for snagging the Matthew Sweeney book. Bill tells me he is a newly certified hatha yoga teacher in Pennsylvania. He doesn’t have a website, but if you’re in his neck of the woods, his teaching schedule is as follows:

  • Saturday mornings, starting Jan. 7, 2012 at Mother’s Nature, 683 South Mountain Blvd., Mountain Top, PA 18707
  • Thursday evenings, starting Jan. 12, 2012 at Beech Mountain Recreation Center, Drums, PA 18222

And congrats to Jen Borrowman, who has recently started teaching four times a week in what she describes as a far-flung corner of Scotland (sounds so calm and beautiful to me!). She’s working on a website, and I hope she shares it in the comments here when she’s done. While she’s working on her website, she can toggle between coding and watching the David Robson DVD that she won.

I’ll soon be announcing the next giveaway in a new blog post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The celiac disease test results are back. And they say…

This WebMD photo is explained with the following description: "In people with celiac, the body's immune system is triggered by gluten in food. Antibodies attack the intestinal lining, damaging, flattening, or destroying the tiny hair-like projections (villi) in the small bowel. Damaged villi can't effectively absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall. As a result, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals get passed through the stool. Over time, this can lead to malnutrition."

 

I’m logging into Google Docs so I can write down what I just had for dinner. I’m seven days into keeping a food journal, and I’ll be honest — I was pretty lazy about details the first several days. For instance, for Dec. 2, all I have written down is: “Lunch: Smoked salmon bagel sandwich.” I know I ate a lot more than that.

I’m trying to do better. Today’s entry (so far):

  • Breakfast: Coffee with creamer
  • Lunch: Salad that included cheese, stuffed olives, pumpkin mousse, pasta
  • Dinner: Veggie chicken patty, spreadable cheese, gluten-free bread
  • Snacks: A chunk of an oatmeal raisin cookie (stopped because not sure if it had peanuts)

I’m resistant to this whole food journal thing because I don’t want to track every single thing I eat or drink. You might remember that just before Thanksgiving, I went in for long-overdue blood work to determine if I’m sensitive to gluten. I was worried, but I was looking forward to knowing.

Now I know. And what I know is that I don’t know. At the end of November, I found out none of the tests indicated I have any kind of sensitivity to gluten. That means I’m back to square one. My doctor’s office suggesting keeping a food journal for two weeks and then going to discuss. I’m grateful I don’t have to avoid gluten. But the test results also mean I can’t narrow down the reasons why I feel that I must be somehow mistreating my gastrointestinal system, since I feel bloaty and ugh much of the time.

One thing I’ve noticed from being better about the food journal is that I put a whole lot of different food items and beverages into my body each day — many more than I thought. Lots of little things here and there. If I wanted to truly isolate food sources, my diet would look completely different.

A gluten-free zone?

So the question is: Should I try to cut out gluten and see how I feel? The same I started my food journal, my sister’s friend posted this on Google+:

I’ve been eating #glutenfree for about 5 months now and have noticed a significant improvement in my health. While I didn’t test positive for Celiac, there is definitely a scale of gluten tolerance…

It is interesting that they’re finding a huge increase in gluten-intolerance in general these days. I wonder if it has anything to do with the GMO crops or other modern day agricultural changes…

At least today there are tons of gluten-free options available in grocery stores – from mixes and flours to packaged cookies and even bread!

Baking is one of my first loves and was the hardest to reconcile when I first cut out gluten, but I’ve found great success in flour blends, sometimes better than wheat flours!

She included a link to this New York Times Magazine storyabout that asks, “Should We All Go Gluten-Free?”

Comparing blood samples from the 1950s to the 1990s, [Dr. Joseph A.] Murray [a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.] found that young people today are nearly five times as likely to have celiac disease, for reasons he and others researchers cannot explain. And it’s on the rise not only in the U.S. but also in other places where the disease was once considered rare, like Mexico and India.

Celiacs aren’t the only ones who are grateful. Athletes, in particular, have taken to the diet. Some claim to have more energy when they cut out gluten, a belief that intrigues some experts and riles others.

Then there’s the question of cutting out wheat.

I’m not cutting anything out just yet. So…I guess I’ll keep a food journal for a few weeks and then go from there. I know I can start by eating less in general — that’s a given. I’m hoping the discipline I’m gaining with a six-day-a-week practice will make this an easier process.

(Photo/cutline credit: WebMD.com’s “Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Celiac Disease”)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

To rest or not to rest

Ashtangis, are you taking Friday as a moon day and resting?

I recently posted an update to a blog post with this info:

>>Update 12.5.2011: This morning, @claudiayoga tweeted this: “Seems the moon-days on Saturday do not apply in #Mysore. Moved to Friday, enjoy the rest in India! #Ashtanga” She linked to this Suzy’s Mysore Blog post (a diary of six months of practicing Ashtanga in Mysore, India) that says, “…this week is a short practice week as Sharath has moved the Full Moon from Saturday to Friday.”

This was in response to the part of the post that said:

This reminds me that this month, much to the chagrin of ashtangis (see this @ayct tweet and this @claudiayoga tweet), both moon days fall on a Saturday — which means devoted ashtangis who adhere strictly to the rule will get two fewer days of rest this month.

Since then, the @JoisYoga Twitter account sent this out: “Moon Day Encinitas: Fri Dec 9 –http://eepurl.com/huiIE

What are you and/or your studio/shala doing? I may be floating this moon day again, even though I try not to do that — but I feel as if I’m looking down the barrel of a powder keg of a month. And speaking of resting…it’s past midnight and I need to try to get to sleep.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Can I blame Mercury Retrograde for this evening #fail?

 

Yeah, I survived Mercury Retrograde -- but did everyone else who crossed my path?

It has not been a banner evening. I got super angry at a local sushi restaurant over my takeout order. Leaving the restaurant, I got super angry at a guy who obnoxiously cut me off, and on impulse angrily honked my horn at him in protest (I never honk my car horn). Even as I write this post, I’m holding on to some residual frustration.

If I wanted to not take responsibility for this, I would blame Mercury Retrograde, that time when communication simply kind of sucks. Here’s how some random website explains it, for those of you who believe in this kind of thing:

At 07:20 UT (Universal Time) Thursday, November 24th, 2011, Mercury the wise communicator—and universal trickster—turns retrograde at 20°06′ Sagittarius in the sign of the Archer, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup! The retro period begins some days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until December 14, 2011, when the Winged Messenger reaches his direct station. At this time he halts and begins his return to direct motion through the zodiac.

But I should take responsibility for it and admit that I had control over both situations and decided to roll with my emotions rather than take a step back and put it all in perspective.

I just reread Tim Miller’s blog post on trying to view Mercury Retrograde in a more positive light:

While Mercury is retrograde it is good to give a little more emphasis to the right hemisphere of our brain and not be so obsessed with getting from point A to point B. It’s a time to enjoy the nuances of the journey rather than being fixated on our destination. Our typical way of operating in life is called Pravritti, which means being drawn out of our essential self and into the world. What we would be wise to cultivate during Mercury retrograde is what is called Nivritti, which means returning to the Source. It is, perhaps the best of all times to practice yoga and an especially fruitful time to engage in Swadhyaya (self-inquiry). Traditionally, part of Svadhyaya is reading the great spiritual classics like the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc., or some other source of inspiration.

I could flip through some sutras or take out my Bhagavad Gita (after all, some people say it is, according to Confluence Countdown, the Gita Jayanthi today, versus yesterday). I think instead, I’ll head over to another source of calm and self-inquiry in my life — some of the new Ashtanga yoga blogs just added to the blogroll. They include (in no particular order:

I know these situations are mine to take control of. That said, I’m looking forward to going to bed tonight, putting an end to today and starting over tomorrow with Tim’s suggestions in mind. Not being obsessed with getting from point A to B…that’s a hard one for me, but I’ll make a renewed effort.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

Happy birthday, Bhagavad Gita (how old are you now?)

No one can say with certainty how old the Bhagavad Gita is. The tale, which is a story within a story — a book pulled from the epic Mahabharata — has, I learned last week when took a quick jaunt over to Eddie Stern‘s Ashtanga Yoga New York website, a birthday of sorts. And that day is today. Had I been in New York City today rather than in Lansing, Mich., I could have swung by Ashtanga Yoga New York this afternoon or evening to join in the Gita Jayanthi, which the website explained this way:

Monday, December 5th, is the ‘birthday’ of the Bhagavad Gita, and celebrates the day that Sri Krishna spoke the Gita to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. We will celebrate this day by chanting the entire Bhagavad Gita aloud, beginning at 2 pm and finishing at about 6:15 pm. Please feel free to come and sit with us as we chant – bring a copy of the Gita if you would like to read along. As with all pujas and ceremonies at the temple, it is not required to stay for the entire time, or even to arrive when we begin.

I imagine it takes chanting at a pretty good clip to get through about 700 verses in just over four hours. I first read the Bhagavad Gita in college, when I had no context for the text and no experience with a yoga practice. This summer, I reread the Gita (the version translated by Eknath Easwaran), and it was a rocking good read. I know that Pattabhi Jois would tell his students to read the Gita, and I understood why after reading it again. Love, fear, doubt, gunas, deities, despair, confusion, heartache, an impossible situation — the Gita has it all.

Richard Freeman devotes an entire chapter to the Gita in his book The Mirror of Yoga, which I recently read during my Thanksgiving travels. I won’t try to distill the chapter, but I did like Freeman’s description of the tale:

The Bhagavad Gita is so skillfully crafted that carefully reading it allows you to appreciate te fact of impermanence not only intellectually, but actually feeling it in your skin and by experiencing its meaning in your muscles and bones. Perhaps this is one reason the book has had such a long and lasting effect, because through such a visceral understanding there is an opportunity for profound insight into the nature of reality. (p. 108)

We’ll never know exactly how old the Gita is, but we’ll never really need to know either, because it’s got that truly timeless quality. Freeman calls it a “fantastic tool”:

…not to be kept on the shelf as an idol but to be read, to be wrestled with, to be reread, consumed, digested and released.

So get to it! Find a copy of the Gita. Consume, digest, release, repeat. We as humans have been doing it for ages.

>>Read more about Gita Jayanthi by the Confluence Countdown here and here.

(Photo credit: Stuck in Customs’ Flickr photostream. The description of this photo: “Alone in the Bhagavad  I feel like I end up walking alone through the epic book of the Bhagavad Gita. These mythical places are made manifest in unexpected ways as I look around. It feels somewhat empty inside, like it needs to be shared with someone. The only devastated remnants I have are these little pictures, which seem a poor substitute.”)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.)

 

 

 

Kino MacGregor on the logic of practicing six days a week

Kino MacGregor this past week posted an article on the logic of the six day a week Mysore-style Ashtanga method:

Memorizing the postures allows students to focus internally, which is the real goal of yoga. When you do not know what you will be doing next your attention will always be on your teacher rather than within yourself. Once you memorize the sequence of postures that your teacher determines is right for you the entire practice transfers deeper into the subconscious level. Practicing in the Mysore Style method allows you to have days where you go deeply into your practice and also days where you go gently into your practice while performing all the same postures. This natural variation prevents injury, trains you to listen to the body and increases internal body awareness.

As you might know if you’ve been reading this blog lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about practicing six days a week — so Kino’s article comes at a particularly interesting time for me.

If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week.

This reminds me that this month, much to the chagrin of ashtangis (see this @ayct tweet and this @claudiayoga tweet), both moon days fall on a Saturday — which means devoted ashtangis who adhere strictly to the rule will get two fewer days of rest this month. My commentary: Ugh! It’s hard enough that in the U.S., we’re in full holiday swing in December. I’m traveling at the end of the month too, which means it’s sort of a triple whammy for me — a big test indeed, now that I am four months in with my six day a week practice. The good news, though, is that I am at this point committed to this lifestyle. Today was a great example. Worst. Practice. Ever. The whole practice felt like crap. Rose circa December 2010 wouldn’t even have gotten on the mat. But Rose now, at the end of 2011, does and powers through, despite how awful the whole practice felt. I’m hoping that Rose circa winter 2012 will get through the practice with far less mental resistance.

Back to Kino’s article, which offers somes advice for those who may be resistant:

The recommendation to take on a six day a week practice is often hard to accept for new students, so new students can easily build up to a full six day a week practice by starting with three days a week. Then once that level of regularity is established one additional day a week can be added every six months until the full six days a week is within reach. One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one.

Finally, I like that this article includes a roadmap of the primary series (emphasis mine):

The test of the Standing Postures lies in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana where you must balance on one leg, lift your leg with its own strength, forward bend, suck in the lower belly and externally rotate your hip joint all in one posture. Once you can easily perform this posture the work of the Standing Sequence is generally well-integrated and it is safe to move onward in the series. The next series of postures that presents a gateway are the four Marichyasana postures that require a series of binds where you clasp you hand either behind your back or around your leg in a twisted posture and maintain either half lotus or a very strong extended leg. The careful placement of every posture that precedes this section of the practice is aimed at developing the internal strength and flexibility needed to perform these postures with ease. Marichysana D is the pinnacle of this portion of the series, being the most difficult twist and half lotus combination. Finally the grand crescendo of the Primary Series is half way through, Supta Kurmasana where internal strength, external rotation and forward bending are challenged to a high degree in order to get both legs behind the head. After this point in the series the postures help transition from flexion of the spine to extension so that Urdhva Danurasana or Backbending can be performed with ease. In this way the logic of the Primary Series builds up to certain postures that test alignment, inner strength and flexibility in order to make sure that the asana practice is solid and stable before moving on.

That’s one of the many things I adore about the Ashtanga series: You don’t have to know anything about the logic of the sequences to appreciate it — your body, mind and spirit will give you all the signals you need to confirm that it’s an effective system. But if you do decide to study the design of the sequences, there is a treasure trove of data points that, once strung together, help you learn a tremendous amount about the way your body and mind work.

>>Update 12.5.2011: This morning, @claudiayoga tweeted this: “Seems the moon-days on Saturday do not apply in #Mysore. Moved to Friday, enjoy the rest in India! #Ashtanga” She linked to this Suzy’s Mysore Blog post (a diary of six months of practicing Ashtanga in Mysore, India that says, “…this week is a short practice week as Sharath has moved the Full Moon from Saturday to Friday.” Woot!

(Photo credit: String of Pearls: Blurring by Steve Groom via Flickr Creative Commons)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Calling the Ashtanga police (and by the way, why is everyone talking about a naked yoga instructor?)

My friend Jade Sims, a fellow ashtangi and social media geek, shared this Xtranormal video today on Facebook and tagged me, saying I was sure to love it. (Why she thought I would love this, I have no idea. :-) )

And I guess I could love it, except the video maker left out a few things. Like broomadhya drishti in the first surya namaskara vinyasa. Or how about reciting the Mangala mantra? What about ladies’ holiday?

I’m kidding, of course. I think. 😉

Make your own home video
By the way, do you know about Xtranormal? I’ve loved Xtranormal for a long time — great for little in-jokes like this. It’s really easy to use — you feed the script, select characters and movements, and viola! You’ve just made a cartoon video of extraordinarily humorous potential (and, if all goes well, proportion as well). Claudia Azula last year did an Xtranormal video on the lame excuses that keep people away from yoga — check it out here.

So You Want to be a Journalist” is my favorite Xtranormal video of all time — which is laugh-till-your-stomach-hurts-funny especially if you are, like me, a formal journalist and a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism grad.

By the way, if this video technology looks vaguely familiar and you’re not quite sure why, it might be because you’ve seen the “I’m Not Your Daddy I’m Your Grandpa” Geico commercial. 

Another kind of home video?
In the scale of things today, though, this does not seem to be the trending yoga controversy. Nope — that distinction goes to the naked yoga instructor who may or may not have broken up the marriage of Kim Kardashian. And, proving that the yoga world is a pretty small one, fellow Ashtanga blogger Claudia, mentioned above, has taken classes from this guy! I wouldn’t take the time to dignify a Kardashian controversy except that, well, you can’t make this stuff up and Claudia says he’s legit — a great instructor, even. I’m looking forward to what Steve Cahn of the Confluence Countdown blog, who has been all over the Lululemon/Ayn Rand controversy, will say about this one.

Are you serious? Seriously, are you serious? There are way too many inappropriate cutlines for this photo…

>>Update 9:04 p.m. Steve claims he’s traveling and “busy” — I have other theories — but Bobbie Allen, the better half of the Confluence Countdown, took up the mantle and posted this response to the whole naked yogi phenomenon. Read the posted-in-irony “A post about shame.” When they’re not stooping to take up my challenges, they’re blogging about topics with some real social weight, like Gandhi, Occupy Wall Street protests, pepper spray and a teacher’s responsibility.)

>>Update to the update. Once Steve finished up his travels, he got down to business and threw up this post about what we can all learn from the naked yoga Kardashian tale.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.