More on the Ashtanga breath: What the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā tells us

Breathe Deep and Speak Up

After a much-needed night’s rest, I woke up this morning and realized I had totally left off one of the most important parts of the post “The long and the short of it: On the Ashtanga breath (which, for the record, is not ujjayi!).” (Note to self: I took what was probably my sixth-ever restorative yoga class Monday night, and perhaps writing after being lulled by the class into a sleepy state of stillness is not the best order in which to do things. That said, I think an occasional restorative yoga class is tremendously beneficial to rejuvenate — check one out if you’ve never tried it.)

The whole impetus of doing the post on breathing was that on Sunday, I saw @insideowl retweet a tweet from @ABQMysore, and it seemed like a good time to do a post I’ve been wanting to do since last month, when I first heard my teacher talk about breathing with sound versus ujjayi. Here’s the intriguing tweet that links to an Ashtanga Yoga Library post:

Q: Is Ujjāyī the same as “free breathing with sound”? A: No. They are different. The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā (हठ… http://fb.me/25oiwZGdp

(And big thanks to Isaac, who made sure I hadn’t missed this.)

Elise Espat, founder of Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala, begins the post by saying:

Q: Is Ujjāyī the same as “free breathing with sound”?

A: No. They are different.
Ujjāyī is a Kumbhaka (breath retention).
When we apply the Tristhana (asana, breathing, looking place) during our Ashtanga yoga practice, we use “free breathing with sound”. Each breath leads to the next with no retention.

It’s an excellent post. (By the way, if yo don’t already subscribe or have it bookmarked, the Ashtanga Yoga Library is a primo resource — includes everything from well-sourced blog posts like this one to a guide for beginners.) In any case, so that you don’t have to wait with bated breath to see the supporting arguments in this free breath versus ujjayi discussion, I’d suggest you leave YogaRose.net right now and head on over.

>>Read more: The long and the short of it: On the Ashtanga breath (which, for the record, is not ujjayi!)

(Photo credit: “Breath Deep and Speak Up” via aforgrave’s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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 long and the short of it: On the Ashtanga breath (which, for the record, is not ujjayi!)

Speed limit of 8 via Gary Dincher's Flickr photostream

We ashtangis seem to love talking about the breath as much as we love the rhythmic act of breathing itself. Whether new to the practice or a decades-long practitioner, questions about the right and the wrong of breathing frequently bubble up. Answers to questions about the breath are as varied as the breath itself. Below, I’ve chosen some answers that have helped me get a better feel for this art of breathing.

How long and fast should the breath be?

“Medium” and “breathable,” according to David Garrigues:

Partly it’s going to be based on your mood, or your feeling at the time. It’s going to be based on what the posture is demanding. The point is, the breath is breathable. It’s varying. Guruji, he said that the breath is a medium breath. Which meant that it’s not too long and it’s not too short. It’s not like your best pranayama each vinyasa position — if that was the case, it would take too long; it would become forced, unnatural.

Watch the whole segment here:

Mark Darby says this in an interview posted on Wild Yogi:

Going back to the breath, if you see Jois teaching, in a way he teaches standing postures are slow, the breath is very long, when he comes to do the primary series it gets fast. And then it gets very slow again when it comes to finishing postures, because there is no vinyasa in standing and finishing postures so he makes the breaths longer. But as long as you have full breath and rhythm it doesn’t matter how long you breath.

What is the Ashtanga breath called?

This one seems pretty straightforward, right? The Ashtanga breath is called ujjayi breath, right?

Well . . . no. I was stunned to hear my teacher say this at a workshop last month. It turns out the more accurate way to refer to the breath used in the Ashtanga vinyasa practice is “breathing with sound.”

This revelation rippled a while ago among ashtangis who study in Mysore (or those who closely follow their blogs). I remember reading about it this past winter but I think I chose to not try to read too much into this — not enough context, as Steve at the Confluence Countdown noted at the time.

To catch you up if this is new to you, here is an excerpt of Suzy’s Mysore Blog’s coverage of Sharath’s conference notes from Jan. 8, 2012:

The ujjayi breath – how loud should it be?

Answer – which ujjayi breath? It is not ujjayi – it is just deep breathing with sound that’s all. Ujjayi is a pranayama. It is wrong to say that is ujjayi breath.

In the olden days, Guruji he didn’t understand English very well. You all have different accents. It is very difficult to understand people from New Zealand. So Guruji would say yes it’s ujjayi breath. Sometimes for me it is difficult to understand accents. So like that it became many things [Sharath impersonates Guruji] – ‘oh yeh, yeh, yeh’. If he said ‘okay, okay, okay’ it didn’t mean ‘yes’, it meant ‘I’ll think and tell you’. His heart was like a baby’s heart, his mind like a baby’s mind.

It should be deep breathing with sound. Not shallow breathing. Only the nervous system can purify if the breath goes in deep. Each part of my body can feel that breath, up to my toes. The blood is circulating everywhere. If I just do shallow breath, a dog’s breath [Sharath pants like a dog].

It is especially important in sarvangasana (shoulder stand). Shirshasana (head stand) and sarvangasana are very important – we should do for a long time. Sometimes when you get pain this is all because of not breathing properly. When you are doing kurmasana (turtle posture) your shoulders are like this [Sharath demonstrates hunched shoulders]. Try to relax in asana, try to take long breath.

Something will happen for me if you throw me in the water. The more you relax in water, the more easy it is to do the strokes.

Back in 2011, David Robson was surprised to learn this as well:

On my last trip to Mysore, I heard something new. It was during the weekly conference with Sharath. While talking about the breath during practice, someone mentioned “Ujjayi Breath.” Sharath corrected them, saying Ujjayi is a pranayama, a formal breathing exercise, and then moved on to another topic.

At first, I assumed I had misunderstood what Sharath was saying. I had always thought Ujjayi Breath was one of the key principles of Ashtanga Yoga. Confused, I went to the source, Yoga Mala, by Sri K Pattabhi Jois, to see what he had written more than 50 years ago. To my surprise, there is no mention of Ujjayi Breath with vinyasa. None.

A month later I saw Sharath again. I had the chance to ask him if we do Ujjayi Breath during our asana practice. He said no, explaining that Ujjayi Breath is one of the Pranayama techniques of Ashtanga Yoga. In Ashtanga, Pranayama is begun only when a practitioner has started the Advanced Series. During our asana practice we only do steady and even purakaand rechaka, inhalation and exhalation.

In honor of the lineage of this tradition, I’ve stopped using the word “ujjayi” on this blog and when I teach. But I think until an entirely new generation of ashtangis comes up, the Ashtanga community at large might have to agree to disagree on the label of this breath with sound. My guess is that the first generation of Westerners who were the first to study with Pattabhi Jois will likely continue to use “ujjayi” and make a distinction between ujjayi during asana practice and ujjayi pranayama. (Correct me if I’m wrong on this!) The new generation of authorized teachers are already following Sharath’s lead. It’s all good, though, right? Isn’t this a classic tomato vs. tomahto situation? [At least I hope so, because I really don’t want to go back through two years’ worth of blog posts and change every instance of ujjayi. :-) ]

Or maybe a better analogy would be using a brand name for a generic item — saying “Kleenex” when holding a box of Target’s generic brand tissues isn’t technically correct, but we understand how the product is supposed to be used. The label doesn’t change how useful, powerful and beautiful this breath is.

For no particularly great reason, I’ll let “Speed of Sound” close this post.

>>Read more: More on the Ashtanga breath: What the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā tells us

(Photo credit: “Speed limit 8??” via Gary Dincher’s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

52 weeks x 6 days a week* = !!!

Abacus via Generation X-Ray's Flickr

One year ago this week — as my Mt. Shasta yoga and hiking retreat wrapped up — I fully made my commitment to practicing six days a week. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. But the hardest part was starting, and I have to admit that since that initial establishment period, it’s not been as bad as I thought it might be. At this point, it’s simply part of my logistical calculus for each day.

I finally committed because I had reached a sort of practice purgatory in which the alternative seemed just as bad, if not worse: Wanting so badly to have a consistent practice but hitting daily walls of disappointments and bursts of frustration as evenings wore on and I realized that, once again, I would not be practicing. An hour to 90 minutes of practice a day six days a week seemed impossible when I wasn’t doing it, but equally impossible was living with the friction of wanting to practice and not being able to, day after day after day.

So I did it. Read more about my changes in perspective in my six-months-in status update. The post I wrote the last day of July, the night before this month’s first (of two) full moon, serves as, more or less, a one-year update.

It’s safe to say that getting on the mat to practice Ashtanga six days a week has been as big a game changer as discovering Ashtanga yoga in the first place.

2 a.m. – 3 hours = Not enough

The next level of my practice commitment, which started at the beginning of this week, is to start waking up at the brutal — for me — hour of 5:30 a.m. so that I can have at least 75 minutes to practice every morning. It’s been a rocky (read: total failure of a) start. I haven’t been able to get up at 5:30 a.m. even once this week, but I’m not giving up. Week 2 of attempts begins on Monday.

In case you’re concerned I’m beating up on myself, do know that I give myself loads of credit for, over the course of one year, turning back my typical bedtime by about two or three hours (1 a.m. or 2 a.m. –> 11 p.m. or so). I’ve been a night owl since childhood, so this has not been an easy pattern to reprogram. The progress isn’t enough for me to wake up before the sun rises, however; I’ve tried out various schedules, and about 7.5 hours of sleep seems to be my current minimum. One problem is that I get home so late that an earlier bedtime would mean very little — 30 minutes, in some cases — down time between getting home and going to bed.

We’ll see how it goes. I will, of course, keep you posted.

104 weeks x 6 days a week = ?

Exactly one year ago today, I was blogging from McCloud, Calif., about my struggles with food. I eat better these days, but now I’ve hit a sort of consumption purgatory. My tastes have changed dramatically, but my access to the types of food I want to eat has not kept pace. Living in the middle of the Mitten State, if I want, say, pesto quinoa, I have to make it myself or call up my friend Lissy and sweet talk her into whipping up her special dish. While Lissy is a doll and would totally do this for me, I can’t exactly bug her weekly.

Now that we have left apartment life behind and are living in a house with a welcoming kitchen, my husband and I have committed to learning, together, how to cook. We have a weekly weekend date night in which we prepare our own food, and on weeknights, I prepare our lunchtime bento boxes for the next day. I’ve also enjoyed geeking it out over learning more about ayurvedic concepts, even though sometimes I am bummed about what I find out.

For the past year, I’ve been trying — so that I feel better — to rid my body of toxins and less-than-healthy patterns. As of this month, I am still trying for myself, but also as a way to prepare my body to be eventually fit as a vehicle for another’s. As I start to think about what I put into my body, my mind and my spirit with this added intention, I’m beginning to see a subtle but important emphasis. I’m starting to realize that this practice isn’t just a practice designed to fit into a householder’s life — it’s a practice that can help you become more fit not just as a human being, but particularly as a householder.

David Robson of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto has a blog post about the householder life — aka Ashtanga’s seventh series:

The Bhagavad Gita states, ‘One who outwardly performs his social duties but inwardly stays free is a yogi.’ We cannot practice detachment by avoiding life. If we haven’t made any real connections, what is there to detach from? Healthy relationships require a lot of work. If we can devote ourselves wholly to the work, without attachment to outcomes, we manifest our higher nature in the service of others.

If I didn’t practice Ashtanga, I don’t think I would ever be able to believe someone who told me that so much can change by simply stepping on a yoga mat more days than not, and connecting breath to movement during the time you’re on that mat.

Ekam FTW!

*The asterisk is in this post’s title is there for those who don’t practice six days a week and might not know how the traditional Ashtanga method works. Yes, it’s six days a week, with one day (traditionally Saturday) taken as rest, for, pretty much, your whole life. But take into account:

  • You also get moon days off (usually two a month, although this month, for example, it’s three — woo-hoo!).
  • Women can take up to the first three days of their menstrual cycle off (the “ladies’ holiday“).

For most of us, that’s still a tremendously daunting formula. But I now think of it this way: Getting up five days a week to go to an office job is just as daunting, if not more so. (And given how the American social safety net seems to be tattered, working five days a week seems as if it could be as much “for the rest of your life” as Ashtanga does.) Those of us who work in corporate America or environments close to it don’t get the option to only go to work when we feel like it — it’s five days a week, except for paid time off, sick days and the occasional professional development trip. For people with children or others who depend on them, it can become a 24/7 enterprise, with no built-in vacation time.

(Photo credit: Abacus via Generation X-Ray’s Flickr. Flickr Creative Commons FTW!) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Daydreaming about Mt. Shasta, Mexico and milestones

Globe via libertygrace0 Flickr

It was a distracting day to be in Lansing, Mich., because there was so much going on in the Ashtanga world elsewhere.

Mt. Shasta and McCloud, Calif.

Tim Miller started the distractions that turned into daydreams when he posted a dispatch from Mt. Shasta, where he is leading his annual weeklong second series retreat. I was there last year, and it was the beginning of what I’m seeing now as a yearlong emotional shed that began last August in Mt. Shasta, hit a crescendo during my honeymoon in Maui in May, and went all the way up to settling into a new house last month. The friends I met last year who returned to Mt. Shasta this year were posting about their exploits on Facebook, and I would have rather been there with them than at my work desk.

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence and San Diego, Calif.

By afternoon, the Confluence Countdown blogging husband-and-wife team posted that the schedule for the 2013 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was out. It looks amazing. That brought my mind forward to March 2103 and back to this past March, when I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the first-ever Confluence. I won’t be headed to the Confluence next year, however, because money is pretty tight right now, and I’m saving up for . . .

Ashtanga Mexico Retreat with Elise Espat and Angela Jamison

My Ashtanga teacher will be co-leading a retreat near Puerto Vallarta next March, and I want to be there. It seems like an incredible way to experience my practice, and a perfect opportunity for some sort of mental and emotional deep-dive. I wanted to get on a direct flight other Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor folks are taking — and get on it while the prices are still low — so I’ve bought my ticket yesterday. This afternoon, I realized my name was spelled incorrectly on the reservation, which means it doesn’t match my passport, which means it could cause some trouble during the actual trip, so I called Delta today to fix that. Calling the airline got me all excited again for this trip.

I think getting away for yoga trainings and retreats is important not just for deepening a practice, but for the purposes of rekindling inspiration and creating an environment for some healing work. I know these retreats sound like vacations — and they totally are. But if you want them to be, they can also be work — intense and not always pleasant emotional work.

I’d say I hope tomorrow will be a little less distracting, but having too many Ashtanga events to think about is a pretty good problem to have — more opportunities to get away as part of a journey to settle back home.

(Photo credit: “WTF — Globe!!” via libertygrace0’s Flickr

 © YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

A yoga room of one’s own

 

Yoga room

When my husband and I started the hunt for our first home back in February, we had a hard time settling on what we wanted. Neither one of us had grown up in one home. His parents were ninjas at fixing up houses, so he lived in about eight different addresses growing up. (Incredibly, all these homes were located in one tiny — as in, population: less than 1,200 — town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) My family seemed to move from one region of the country to another every five to seven years, so what I knew growing up consisted mostly of rentals.

We were set on one thing, however: We needed to find something in our price range that allowed me to have a yoga room, and gave him space for his guitars. At some point during every open house visit we made, Scott would ask, “So which one would be the yoga room?” Usually it was obvious, and when it wasn’t, that house had no chance of making the cut.

When we walked into the house we eventually closed on in May (the same week as our wedding, no less), we knew it was the one. There was one bedroom that had been used as an office, so it lacked a closet and featured interesting display shelves. The room faced east, had a skylight, and featured double French doors. I felt as if I had won the yoga room lottery, especially given how unideal our apartment had been when it came to a home practice.

The French doors were beautiful, but I did want some modicum of privacy, to maintain the  sense that this space is separate from the rest of the house on both a practical level and a symbolic one. So, after we moved in in late June, my father-in-law and husband covered up the glass panes with beautifully delicate rice paper.

Yoga room window

The centerpiece of the room is a stone tray with a Ganesha puja spoon and a Ganesha murti. Ganesha, son of Shiva, is the lord of thresholds and new beginnings, and it’s fitting inspiration for me on so many levels. I wrote about this in my last blog post.

Ganesha part of yoga room

To the left of Ganesh is a Nandi bell, which I picked up at the Ashtanga Yoga Center based on my fascination with, and affinity toward, Shiva thanks to his seemingly paradoxical — though ultimately, it’s basically a seamless dynamic — energy of creation and destruction.

Nandi bell

To the right of the Ganesha centerpiece is a crater bowl formed using Maui clay that I picked up during my honeymoon in May. The lava-like nature is a result of being pulled from a burning inferno at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees, and the molten pieces are placed in pits filled with leaves and Koa wood shavings. Thinking about fire, smoke and raw elements – and what they can do together – reminds me of the sacred fire of tapas that can transform an ashtangi on such a deep level.

Raku bowl

I love the incarnation of Shiva as Nataraja. I picked this up the last time I was Yoga on High  in Columbus, Ohio.

Nataraja

I have a penchant for collecting Ashtanga yoga practice cards, and on one shelf, I’ve displayed some of the cards I own.  Beyond being graphically gorgeous, I think practice cards are great reminders that while the physical practice of the Ashtanga system is a traditional, set sequence, it has elements of fluidity. Poses do change somewhat, depending on when the practitioner studied in Mysore. The slight differences from one practice card to another offer reminders that while the design of the sequence is brilliant, it does change to accomodate different types of practitioners, different time periods, and different areas of focus. I think if we can embrace the power of the tradition without holding on too tightly to rigid rules (two paschimottanasanas! no, four!), we can remain more fluid and enhance our ability to receive a particular moment’s lesson.

Practice cards

On one of the shelves sits a frame my mom made for me. In Thai is written, “Everything in this world is created, is sustained, and fades away.” She made that for me to help me during a time when I hated my job. I needed to be reminded that this job — and my whole situation in life at the time — would not last forever. I know the flip side is also true, so while I am grateful for everything I have right now — fresh off a wedding, honeymoon, and the grounded blissfulness of having your own new space in which to make a new start — I know that life’s ups and downs will continue to take their course.

Thai plaque

The other shelves hold yoga books, along with binders, folders and notebooks that contain the notes I’ve taken during workshops and trainings over the years.

The yoga room also houses my meditation cushion, which I hope to start using more frequently than I am now (finding a daily sitting practice is my goal for the latter half of 2012).

One final note: the yoga room currently has carpet. When funding allows (perhaps 2014, at the rate I’m going?), I’d like to replace the carpeting with bamboo floors. Right now, though, I’m practicing on my LifeBoard in this perfect space, and all is good.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

About this blog’s new header

New blog header July 31, 2012

From left to right, one set of triple gems in my life.

Ganesha centerpiece

Inspiration

Ganesha is the lord of thresholds and new beginnings, and here you have a Ganesha puja spoon purchased in 2010 from the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif., and a Ganesha murti gifted to me and my husband when we moved into our new house in 2012. They’re both resting on top of a stone tray given to me by my sister Alisa. I’ve been waiting for years to find the perfect use for this tray, and I finally have.

The tray is the centerpiece of my new yoga room, and below it are the blue-and-gold Thai sashes I wore in May for a marriage blessing at Dhammasala, a Thai Theravada forest monastery in, of all places, Perry, Mich. My mom and dad bought the Thai outfit for me, and my sisters meticulously pinned all the pieces of the outfit for the short ceremony. The sashes are there, in short, because objects from my family are important to me. My parents and my two sisters, along with my husband, embody the qualities I want to nurture in myself — kindness, patience and generosity. The yogic system encourages humans to see the divine in all things; I’m not there yet. But I can always find a type of divine inspiration in the radiant spirit of my loving and wise family members.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Teachings and teachers

This photo was taken by Michelle Haymoz, a photographer based in Encinitas, Calif., who always seems to capture the most striking and compelling aspects of the human spirit. Luckily for the yoga world, she enjoys turning her lens to the practice. Here, she used her camera for photos of the summer 2010 primary series teacher training led by Tim Miller. Tim has a loyal, worldwide following — he’s the kind of teacher students uproot their lives for, to be close enough to study with him — and is the first American certified to teach Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I first met Tim at a workshop in Columbus, Ohio, in April 2010, and within five minutes of being in his presence, I knew I had to make the trek to his studio some day (which I did, at the urging of my now-husband, later that same year). Tim has a gift for synthesizing the Yoga Sutras and the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice — a gift for mapping the yogic principles contained in the 196 aphorisms of the sutras to foundational elements of the Ashtanga practice. The powerful sense of equanimity he conveys is, in and of itself, instructive.

I’m in the foreground in padmasana wearing a custom spinning ring I bought myself in 2009, when the beginning of a shift started to take place. That shift was from a perspective of fitting yoga into your life to fitting your life into your yoga, and it really started when I decided to deepen my sporadic Ashtanga practice (the product of living in areas of the country lacking Ashtanga teachers) by taking a 200-hour vinyasa-based teacher training program with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I had absolutely no desire to teach yoga at the time, but I was drawn to the possibility of what I could learn from Hilaire, who is a pistol of a woman with a passion for offering students the level of challenge they need in their practice to start to make discoveries about themselves. She did exactly what she promised she would do during that teacher training and a subsequent 500-hour training I took with her in 2010 — she opened doors for further exploration, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

Inside the ring was etched, “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and while I’m still sad about it, I decided against ordering a replacement. I saw the loss as a way to remain detached to the physical object while internalizing the spirit of the ring’s meaning to me.

Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.

Community

This is a photo of the Stone Arch in Saline, Mich. — a church that’s been beautifully converted into an event space — taken mid-morning during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor summer retreat, just after the Mysore practice time ended. The energy inside the main space of the Stone Arch was tremendously calm during the practice — and if you’ve ever practiced in this style, you know there is nothing quite like a Mysore room and the pulsing of the rhythmic breath of your fellow practitioners. The work being done on each of the 30 or so mats was so individual, and yet so communal.

Angela Jamison, who has been building AY: A2 since moving to Michigan a few short years ago, invests deeply in helping her students find their individual paths, and she also works to strengthen the Ashtanga community by connecting practitioners from different areas — whether it’s different parts of Michigan or different parts of the world.These AY:A2 retreats are, much like events such as the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, tremendous opportunities to bring more people who are interested in the eight limbs of the practice into your orbit.

I met Angela in person in 2011, after returning from an important (in that shedding kind of way) trip to Mt. Shasta. While I wish I had met her years ago, it was also the perfect time for our paths to cross. Thanks to her teaching, and her guidance by example, I’ve been able to integrate many threads of a more yogic life. These threads — such as practicing six days a week and finding ways to let go of deeply seated emotions — were threads that I would start to braid, but they would unravel for one reason or another. Often, it was work demands. Sometimes, it was simply life. Others, for reasons I can’t understand even now.

I’ve been told the first part of my last name, “Tantra,” means “to weave” in Sanskrit. My three-and-a-half-decade journey has shown me that it helps to have a lot of help in this enterprise of weaving strands of your life together. Triangulation with a triple gem. I started out my career with a vague sense that I wanted to tell people’s stories, so I went into journalism. I had a love/hate relationship with the field — it was like playing the right song in the wrong pitch. (Now, as a communications professional, I work for clients who need their story told.)

I started this blog in the summer of 2010, when my life was more or less on track, but in a pretty different place — a much more unsettled, frazzled and searching place. To the extent that I can, I’m sharing my own stories, as they come. You won’t find an enlightened yogi in these posts, because it’s two steps forward, three steps back for me. But if you follow the trajectory of the blog, you might see that the thread of the Ashtanga yoga method has been working wonders in slow and unpredictable ways. A decade and a half after I started out trying to tell everyone else’s story, I’ve come to realize that perhaps all these journalists, poets and novelists were right: You have to write what you know.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Retreat dispatch: A simple (though maybe not easy) way to ratchet down reactivity

The Stone Arch event space

The Stone Arch event space in Saline, Mich.

Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor‘s summer retreat was held this weekend inside the Stone Arch, a beautiful and expansively intimate church-turned-event-space located in a cute Michigan town called Saline. This was my third retreat with Angela Jamison of AY: A2, and, as with any good yoga workshop, each one of these seasonal confabs has offered me an array of inspirational, intellectual and practice-based nourishment. Some I digest right away (along with, I should mention, actual tasty nourishment in the form of fantastic lunches), and some I can’t until much later.

Something I digested in real time today had to do with an exploration of how to decrease your reactivity during potentially tension-filled situations — whether that’s at an academic talk, a corporate meeting or a personal conversation. There’s a one-word answer and then a longer answer. The one-word answer: Listen. (If you’ve already started judging this word, hold on — listen for a couple paragraphs longer.) The longer answer requires a look at a person’s five koshas, or sheaths. Koshas go from the outside in, starting with gross manifestations (the body) and move toward more subtle ones:

  • Annamaya kosha: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosha: Energy body
  • Manomaya kosha: Mental body
  • Vijnanamaya kosha: Wisdom body
  • Anandamaya kosha: Blissful body

Rather than starting to build up your own wall of defenses — your feeling on the matter, your justifications, or whatever it may be — while someone else is talking, try really listening. Become very, very receptive to what is said, rather than work off a loop of assumptions and proactive counterarguments. The self-help industry is full of advice of listening, but in this yogic framework of koshas, what you’re doing is allowing a quick downshift from the mental body to the wisdom body, and allowing reactions to come from a more refined place. It’s not easy to let go this way, but the payoff can be tremendous.

I seriously love framing this shift in consciousness like this, because I do this. I. Do. This. I do this all the time, in fact. I don’t consider myself overly analytical, but probably starting with my time on the high school speech and debate team and on through my work in deadline-driven professionals, I’ve always seen arguments — even healthy ones — as an us versus them proposition with winners, losers and a ticking clock. Time is limited. Get your idea out there before a worse one gains popularity. (Working in corporate America has done nothing but reinforce my patterns.)

Speaking of digestion . . . in my ongoing efforts to start waking up at 5:30 a.m. six days a week to practice, Angela has suggested that I stop eating dinner at my usual 8, 9 or 10 p.m. and try to eat earlier. The retreat flew by today, and between that, the 75-minute drive home, and a quick errand on the way home, it’s getting awfully close to my usual dinnertime. I have lots of great vegetables from yesterday’s trip to Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Famers Market, so I better go.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

Power to the pitta, plus a recipe for a delicious fig and date almond drink

Figs and dates soaked overnight in 1/2 cup of water.

Figs and dates soaked overnight in 1/2 cup of water.

As I’ve spent the past several weeks dumping, sorting, packing, moving and organizing to move from an apartment to a house, I’ve been on an ayurvedic jag. Maybe it’s that I’m drawn to the idea of reining in excess and imbalance. Maybe it’s that I want to start out on the right foot when it comes to cooking, now that I have a real kitchen. Maybe it’s because I’m coming up on a year of practicing six days a week, and it’s a natural shift.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been feeding this craving to learn more about India’s ancient medical/healing system by reading Robert Svoboda’s Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity and listening to Yoga Peeps podcasts on ayurveda. Thanks to being stuck late at the office on Friday, I started searching for more podcasts on ayurveda, since I had the place to myself, and discovered a 2009 Puja.net podcast featuring Aparna Khanolkar — an ayurvedic lifestyle and culinary coach in Santa Barbara — about how to eat stress-free during the holidays. At the end of that podcast, I still had more work to do, so I went on to one about people with dominant characteristics of the pitta dosha.

At fist blush, it seems I have a lot of characteristics of pitta (and a lot of vata too, but perhaps more pitta).

Here is how this blog describes the three:

  • Vata is the Queen of the three doshas (Vata, Pita, and Kapha) because she is main vehicle of transportation of energies. Vata is the manifestation of air and space (of the 5 elements) and is responsible for a wide variety of physiological functions that involve movement.
  • Pitta is the manifestation of fire and water. It governs digestion, metabolism and vision.
  • Kapha brings the stability and solidity of earth and water to the body/mind. Kapha is responsible for immune function, strength and vitality, lubrication and structure.

One of the most common traits I keep hearing about pitta folks: They’re organized and efficient — the type to make lists and stick to them. And they can get quite irritable when hungry.

All three of my sisters and I — and our mom too — are organized, efficient and make lists (sometimes, we even make lists of lists), and all four of us can go from fine to crazyfrustratedangryannoyedbecausewejustrealizeditisquitelateandwehaventhadachancetoeat in about three seconds flat. (By the way, if you’re more of a vata-type, here’s the Puja.net post on vata. If you’re kapha, here’s the post on that.) 

My sister Alisa has coined a brilliant term for our zero –> angry state when driven by hunger:

Hangry: That particular kind of anger that arises when hungry.

Our significant others know about it, our coworkers know about it, our friends know about it — and anyone who knows about it does whatever needs to be done to avoid it. At the small firm where I work, one of our interns summed it up by saying: “Don’t get the women of Martin Waymire angry — and if you do, bring food.”

The post recommends the following food for pitta-types:

  • Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peas, potatoes and leafy greens
  • Favor sweet ripe fruits such as blueberries, dark grapes, melons, pears, raisins, mangoes, figs, and coconut
  • Eat grains such as barley, basmati rice, wheat and quinoa
  • Avoid beets, carrots, eggplant, garlic, hot peppers, onions, spinach and tomatoes
  • Avoid sour or unripe fruits

Speaking of lists, I have about seven more things on the to-do list for today, and the sun is starting to set. So let me share the recipe — a first for YogaRose.net!) that accompanied this pitta blog post. It’s for a fig and date almond drink, which I made today.

Fig and date almond drink

Ingredients:

3 figs soaked in 1/2 cup water overnight
5 dates soaked with the figs
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla

Preparation:

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blended for 3 minutes. Serve chilled.

 

Fresh Almond Milk

Ingredients:
½ cup raw almonds
3 cups water

Preparation:
Soak the almonds in water overnight or in hot water for about 30 minutes. Peel the almonds. Grind it with water and till the almonds are blended finely. You may have to do this in two batches. Place a bowl on the counter and carefully pour the nut milk from the blender into the straining bag or a fine mesh strainer. Discard the almond meal and enjoy the milk in teas, or drinks.

 

(Source: Puja.net ayurveda blog post No. 5)

(Note: I bought almond milk. Don’t judge — it’s my first recipe for the blog. :) ) I had to go to three local grocery stores to find one with figs, but other than that, the recipe was a breeze (which is a requirement when you have my level of culinary skills). It combines two things I love — dates and almond milk — and one I like but rarely get to eat (the figs). While I really enjoyed the creamy and healthy concoction, it was on the thick side for me (most likely because I didn’t make my own almond milk). So I prepared a second batch that had 1 3/4 cups of almond milk rather than 1 1/2, and I blended it for a little longer. That suited me better, and I poured some of it into an espresso cup and slid it into the fridge, with the idea that I could save it for the next time I’m about to get hangry!

Happy Belly Happy SoulBy the way, the author of this recipe came out with a new book this year called Happy Belly Happy Soul: A Guide to Vedic Cooking that I’m ordering. It’s a $16.99 paperback on Amazon.com with 108 vegetarian recipes that the publisher pledges are easy to prepare. My body’s cravings have changed so tremendously over the past year (for example, I love quinoa, and I’ll take that over carbs just about any day, at this point) that I want to strike while the iron’s hot. Here’s to hoping that putting a cookbook in my virtual shopping cart will actually improve what I put into my real-life grocery carts.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Shut up and play the quiet

My concert buddy and I drove an hour west to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Mich. last night to watch Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final, epic (I think “epic” is the right word here) show at Madison Square Garden. It’s a superbly executed music documentary that includes snippets of a great interview of James Murphy led by Chuck Klosterman — thought-provoking and entertaining stuff.

While watching, I thought a little about how much my music tastes have changed. I used to only listen to bands that had the typical rock or pop construction of guitar chords, refrains, etc. Over time, though, I’ve been increasingly drawn to bands that don’t stick to the template — bands like LCD Soundsystem and, more recently, Caribou. These outfits create soundscapes, including lyrics when they’re needed and not including them when they’re not.

I’m a journalist by training, so words are the tools of my trade. But more and more and in different situations, the mantra of “less is more” (something my favorite journalism professor always stressed) has been sinking in. From filler lyrics to the thoughts that run on a loop in our heads, words can clutter so much of our external and internal spaces.

Over the past 11 months, as I’ve been working to deepen my Ashtanga yoga practice by committing to practicing six days a week, I’ve noticed I’m more able to tolerate stillness and quietness while working, running errands or doing stuff around the house. (A big exception is that I do already love quiet yoga rooms — the less chatter, the better.) I used to rely on having a TV on, or music playing, when at home. Basically, these days, I don’t feel the symptoms of withdrawal from chatter/sounds/white noise as frequently or intensely. And I wonder if part of my shifting music tastes is my ability to enjoy more space in my soundscapes. As strange as my description may sound, a track like “Bowls” feels like it has more room now to pulse and resonate.

Speaking of less is more on the monkey mind front: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page had this recommendation yesterday:

So if you’re looking for meditation | remixed, give this meditation app a try. I’ve been so swamped lately, but I’ll check out ReWire one of these days — along with another fascinating app called Brain Wave, which says it “uses sequences of binaural tones combined with soothing ambient nature sounds and atmospheric music to stimulate specific brainwave frequencies and induce different states of mind. Includes programs for sleep.” I don’t know anything about binaural tones, but my concert buddy just told me Pearl Jam had an album that used this technique — titled, appropriately enough, Binaural.

Side note: I found out today that LCD Soundsystem-affiliated Juan Maclean practices Ashtanga yoga, and travels to Mysore. You can find the whole interview here (you’ll have to scroll down — I didn’t see any anchors) and here’s an inspiring snippet:

How has yoga now improved your working life as a DJ?

“I practice six days a week no matter where I am or what I’ve done the night before. It has been enormously helpful in keeping my body functioning while maintaining an insane travel schedule. Sitting on planes has become a major job hazard. The yoga gets my blood flowing again, stretches out all those tightened muscles, relieves inflammation, and helps with jet lag.”

How has yoga changed you as a person?

“It’s a little embarrassing but I had a bad anger problem, I would get totally out of control. There were a couple of incidents that were well documented on the internet, much to the dismay of my mother, where I had physically assaulted people while DJing. Whether my actions were justified or not, beating someone up in the middle of a DJ set is completely ridiculous. Since practicing Ashtanga, I’ve calmed down immensely. It’s also made me a generally nicer person.”

So cool to see a DJ who travels extensively make the traditional practice happen! Rock on, Maclean!

(Photo credit: Hierophant’s Facebook page)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

David Robson releases instructional video on jumping back and through

Online video rental and DVD available of David Robson’s latest instructional video, Learn to Float: Jump Back and Jump Through

(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)


David Robson of Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto has released a new video in his Learn to Float series. I’ve written three blog posts related to Robson’s well-produced Learn to Float DVD, and I’m looking forward to ordering this new addition to the Learn to Float family.

What’s so interesting to me about the jump-back and jump-through — a challenge so specific to the Ashtanga yoga system — is that it can seem kind of hypocritical to the new yoga student. “Ashtanga is not about how to become a gymnast,” instructors will say. Sometimes, as an instructor, you feel you can hear the internal dialogue of a student push back. “Yeah? So why does this practice include jumping through?”

Why? A few reasons — some of which I’m sure I haven’t even explored yet. But for one, these motions, which we go through in between poses, build strength in key places and very compassionately keep up our internal heat.

David Robson's instructional video on jumping back and jumping through

Screenshot from David Robson’s instructional video on jumping back and jumping through

For me personally, the float-throughs have been incredibly instructive on the level of recalibrating my perceptions of what’s possible. So many students — myself included — want to give up before starting to even try to float back and float through. The arguments sound logical enough: Either “My arms aren’t long enough” or “I’m not strong enough.” For those of us with short arms, the arms-not-long argument will always be true — it’s not like we can go to Home Depot to buy arm extenders. So what we have to do is work on the strength part. But how much strength is needed is deceptive. If you try to brute force the jumping back part, for instance, you are going to have to build up what I consider to be massive amounts of strength. But if you tip forward (while smartly use your head as a counterweight) instead of trying to launch straight up from the mat, a lot less sheer strength is needed. So the “Am I capable?” part of the equation turns instead to a question of “How do I find the right teachers to show me the way?” Huge difference in starting assumptions and, therefore, huge difference in approach.

To learn more about the video, head over to its official page.

By the way: An article in this past Sunday’s The Globe and Mail that quotes David Robson has been making the rounds among ashtangis lately. Check out the Confluence Countdown’s recap.

>>Update 8/25/12: Reading Tanya Lee Markul’s review of this DVD, published on elephant journalhas reminded me that while this DVD is in my queue, I have not yet any time to get to it! Maybe post-Labor Day? (Crosses fingers.) Most recently, as the faithful readers among you know, I’ve been happily tied up with the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. 😉  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

(Mental) space renovations

After 11 days in my new house, I’ve come to truly understand just how much choice we have when it comes to setting up the internal spaces of a home. From type of flooring to ceiling styles, from window treatments to light fixtures, you don’t have to settle for what you’ve currently got. There are plenty of home improvement shows on cable that prove you can transform any space if you have the right tools and work systematically — but it has taken being a first-time homeowner to truly drive home the point for me.

The last several days of replacing, organizing and decluttering has led me to think about physical space as an intriguing analogy for, and reflection of, mental space. It’s been slow going unpacking my personal stuff — clothes, books and mementos — because even though I tried to whittle down as much as I could while packing up our old apartment, I was only capable of parting with so much as we departed that space. After our arrival in this new space, I’ve had a little more time (and literal space) to be much more deliberate.

Do I need this? 

Really, do I really need this?

Seriously, what does keeping this around do for me? 

A lifelong pack rat, I’m determined to make this a home that feels clean and open. And along the way, I’m trying to see if I can mirror this determination and this process by decluttering my mental space a bit too. Just as I examine each skirt and shirt I own to see if it should enter my closet or be taken out of this house for good, I’m trying to examine each grudge, resentment and anxiety that arises during this time.

Do I need this? 

Really, do I really need this?

Seriously, what does keeping this around do for me? 

Maybe it’s not quite as impossible as I think it is to become the more even keel person I want to be.

Coincidentally — or perhaps not so coincidentally — the most recent AY:A2 newsletter includes a paragraph on saucha:

Saucha is a niyama suggesting, for practical purposes, that practitioners develop energy awareness, learning to keep the energies around things, people and practices distinct. It’s usually translated simply as “cleanliness.” What does it mean to practice with awareness of mental hygiene, physical, interpersonal clarity and crispness?

Of the suggestions linked, this one stood out to me:

Be cautious about repeating negative thoughts (or talk) in a compulsive manner. You have choices about the (inner) environment you inhabit. It’s funny, but physical practice is easiest when there’s a vibe of kindness and generosity to oneself and others. It is possible to cultivate positive emotions and thoughts while accepting and studying any negativity that arises.

In this reorganization and shedding process, I’m hoping that as my rooms go, so go my mental spaces. It’s this kind of liberation I’ll be thinking about on this Fourth of July, as my husband and I enjoy one of the few full days we’ll have this month to simply relax together in our sweet little home.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Unpacking my patterns of excess

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Packing up -- so many boxes

I know I’m in good company when I say that I don’t enjoy the moving process. Packing up belongings is hardest — the unpleasant surprises you unearth, the reminders of challenging people or periods in your life, the discomfort of tossing crap you want to shed but that you’re not quite ready to let go of quite yet. Unpacking at least allows for new beginnings of sorts — old item, new place.

This weekend, I listened to an old Yoga Peeps podcast with James Bailey on the science of ayurveda while tackling the emotionally toughest section of the apartment for me — stacks of old personal and professional documents that should have been recycled or shredded years ago.

In any case, the part of the podcast that struck me most was when the interviewer asked Bailey about whether he sees recurring patterns. Yes, he said — the vast majority of tendencies you’ll see in Western cultures are patterns of excess:

We tend to see an overnourishment of the body, overnourishment of the tissues. There were times in our ancestors’ histories and their lives where deficiencies were the threat to society. . . . But these days, these nutrients are available in mass quantities and overmanufuactured, basically. So we have proteins and fats and sugars and carbohydrates that are available and cheap — really cheap. Anybody can afford to get access to these nutrients, and in ungodly amounts, lending towards severe diseases of excess. . . . Obesity is one, diabetes is one, cancers and some growths and tumors are others — hypertension and so on. These are the diseases of our day — chronic because they are lifestyle-based. They come down to choices. (This section stars roughly around 17:45 in the podcast.)

A pack rat by nature, and surrounded by stacks of slips of paper I should have slipped out of my life long ago, that observation deeply resonated. At least moving forces you to go through piles and open boxes and make decisions about how many physical mementos linked to emotional baggage you want to carry on with you to the next space you occupy.

And I started to wonder whether one of the more potent — and therefore emotionally difficult — aspects of maintaining a consistent Ashtanga practice is that you are confronted each day by some manifestation of excess in your life. Yes, you have to face areas of depletion as well — for starters, there’s lack of sleep, lack of hydration, lack of will, lack of time and lack of space.

But areas of excess require decisions to let go. In the beginning, there’s the typical realization of too much fat on the body (or, to put it more politely, adipose tissue), too much food in the belly, too much stress absorbed into muscles. Looking back, I think I had worked marichyasana D as far as I could (given the proportions of my arms to the rest of the my body) when Tim Miller basically looked and me and suggested I consider shedding a few kilos (this reminds of a blog post title that made me laugh: “Marichyasana D — ‘D’ is for diet“). Looking back, I think he was right — but it would be some time before I was motivated to make any real lifestyle changes.

Every day, month after month, year after year, you can choose to face your areas of physical, mental and emotional excesses and not change anything about your life off the mat — it seems to me that the practice doesn’t judge. On a personal level, what I have found after nine months of a consistent practice is that the desire to continue habits of excess starts to diminish on its own. And thank god, because I still don’t have the willpower to totally avoid, for instance, cheesy breadsticks even though I know there is nothing to gain, from a nutritional point. (Literally as I’ve been writing this paragraph, my husband offered me a bite of his breadstick and I totally took one, because it looked pretty damn good.) The difference now is that I’m pretty satisfied with, say, one bite, whereas a couple years ago, I would have probably eaten two or three breadsticks.

Diet-wise, I feel that my body’s intelligence about what I consume has been dusted off and is slowly but surely gaining authority in this mind-body system of mine. I am quite certain I have to credit practice for this — I don’t see other factors in my lifestyle that could have triggered the change. These days, I don’t feel like I have to consult labels or more gastronomically yogic friends — for the most part, I have a sense of what will feel good after I eat it and what won’t. Last week, for instance, I was stuck in a six-hour-long website writing and editing session. When I was asked what I wanted to order for lunch, I got my sandwich, but I insisted on one of those ginormous cookies as well. I knew, going in, that I would enjoy it then, but feel it a couple hours later. But the trade-off was worth it to me. (If you’ve ever been stuck in  marathon sessions related to building websites, you probably know what I mean.) So I still have patterns of excess — don’t even get me started on the criminally delicious ice cream cake my colleagues got me last week for a belated birthday gathering — but at least I am being present when those decisions are made.

Well, I suppose I should get back to packing up my stuff so we can finishing moving out of this little one-bedroom apartment into a house. I am really hoping and determined to check my pattern of excess — as it relates to useless and no longer necessary stuff, anyway — at the door of this new home. Wish me luck — and the good instincts that seem to develop from continued practice.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Venus in transit, Rose in kitchen: Coincidence, or the beginning of an era?

 

Lunch bento box

I don’t know if it was the effect of yesterday’s rare Venus transit, but I was inspired to pick up an updated bento box called the Laptop Lunch as a way to eat healthier — and tastier — lunches. Here’s what I came up with given stuff I already had in the fridge and cabinets.

Bento box annotated

  1. Cheese and prosciutto roll-ups in a spinach wrap
  2. Cajun kale chips
  3. Salad with Champagne dressing
  4. Quinoa with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes

This Venus transit isn’t slated to happen again until 2117, so I hope my motivation to prepare these more balanced bento box lunches isn’t nearly as rare as today’s astrological phenomenon.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

‘Clear plastic in a place called Lahaina’: Maui and the early ashtangis

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Well, here I am at LAX during a three-hour layover. We boarded a red eye from Maui around 10 p.m. last night, and we’re scheduled to land in Detroit around 5 p.m. today. What this means is that the honeymoon is undisputedly over. I’m not coping with that fact very well — reentry into my normal life is going to be incredibly difficult — but I’m trying to not dwell on it.

While a honeymoon is not exactly the ideal time to savor books, during our six days in Maui, I at least finished the first section of Guruji: Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois by Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern. Since the book was published in 2010, I’ve been looking forward to having the time and space to delve into it. Maui was the perfect place to read the section on “The Seventies: How Ashtanga Came to the West,” since it seems that each interview in that first section involves Maui in some way, shape or form.

David Williams and Nancy Gilgoff both settled in Maui early on. Ricky Heiman hosted Guruji at his home on the island three or four times over the years. Tim Miller took over the Ashtanga shala in Encinitas, Calif., after his first teacher, Brad Ramsey, left for Maui. David Swenson recalls how he first got to Mysore, and the story — of course — involves Maui:

One day I got a call from David [Williams]. ‘David, this is David. Nancy and I are going to Msyore and we want you to take over all our classes for us while we are gone.’ And I’m thinking well, Houston, Texas, or Maui? Houston, Texas, or Maui? I was on the next plane to Maui.

And the yoga room there was basic, capital B. The floor was made from dirt, and on top of the dirt was carpet that we got from hotel rooms that were remodeled. We would just roll the carpet over the dirt floor. We built the room with eight walls like an octagon . . . .

Because of our lack of funds — we were a bunch of hippies living in tree houses and nobody really had much money — people used to just give us papayas and things for class. We stapled clear plastic on the roof as covering. This was a little silly but it was all we could afford. Clear plastic in a place called Lahaina. Lahaina in Hawaiian means ‘relentless sun,’ so this was basically a greenhouse, good for growing tomatoes. (p. 88-89)

It was there, in Maui, that David Swenson decided to make the trek to Maui.

So for our honeymoon, Scott and I stayed in a gorgeous hotel on West Maui’s Ka’anapali Beach, which is just north of the now artsy town of Lahaina. Lahaina is pretty hopping on Friday nights, and that’s when we visited town, strolling along the Front Street area. During our search for a particular ukelele shop (Scott’s quest, not mine), our walk took us past a yoga studio in a strip mall (no Ashtanga taught there — I checked). But overall, what a contrast to the ’70s scene described by David Swenson.

It’s always such a great reminder to hear the stories about how difficult it was for the first Westerners to find Ashtanga yoga — traveling overland to India, setting up yurts in seaside towns. We have it so easy now.

During our trip, I took our rental Jeep one morning for the roughly one-hour drive from our hotel to the town of Pa’ia, where, as far as I can tell, there are two places to practice Ashtanga — at the Ashtanga Yoga Maui Mysore Style and at Paia Yoga, both within a stone’s throw from each other. Nancy Gilgoff’s House of Yoga and Zen is a few miles beyond this town. (I learned back in March when I met Nancy at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence in San Diego that she would not be on the island when I was. Next time!)

Pa’ia is where Ricky Heiman first witnessed the Ashtanga yoga system in action. As he recalls in Guruji, he met Pattabhi Jois by accident in 1979 when Pattabhi Joi happened to be at a fruit stand in Kihei, on the island’s south side. Guruji’s hosts were:

. . . doing a workshop on the other side of the island, in an area called Paia, on their first trip to Maui. I went the next day to watch them do this practice. I was actually shocked, watching sixty, seventy people sweating like I never saw before, and this little gentleman jumping all over the room helping everybody. So it looked like a party to me. As I found out later, it wasn’t a party — it was hard work.

The Ashtanga practice is still incredibly hard work, but I am grateful that getting to the mat isn’t necessarily hard work anymore, thanks to enthusiasm and tenacity of these early ashtangis.

And finally, about Maui itself: Now that I’ve been there, I absolutely see the appeal. If I ever win the lottery — ha! — I’d be happy to add to the roster of ashtangis who pack up from the mainland and settle down on the island.

(Map credit: GoHawaii.about.com)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Not a bad way to practice floating to bakasana

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My penultimate practice in Maui — at least on this trip. I have to get back here one of these days!

Here is how I practiced floating to bakasana this morning. Even though you might think being three floors up would scare me, that incredible view was just so inspiring. I pretended the breeze was waiting just beyond the glass to catch me as I floated into crane pose, a transition that happens in Ashtanga’s second series. I used a trick I learned from Tim Miller, which was to take a huge pillow to dampen my fear of face-planting. In this case, I used one of the hotel room’s couch cushions.

I found that with this set-up, it was very calming to practice floating into bakasana.

So my husband is about done grilling our burgers for our picnic. I’ll catch you later. Mahalo!

Hello from Maui

Hello — I mean, aloha — from Maui, in which I savor the fourth day of my honeymoon. (The gap in blogging represents the last several weeks of homestretch wedding planning. The wedding itself was this past Sunday, on May 20. It was a new moon that day, which I am told made for an auspicious day for nuptials. On a more practical level, I was thrilled to not have to get up before 5 a.m. to practice, since my hair appointment was brutally early at 7:45 a.m.)

Anyway, Wailea Beach is a stunning place to be. If you’ve been lucky enough to be here at some point, you know. If you haven’t been here yet, just add wind, sun, good vibes, the refreshing smell of salt water and a collective, deep sense of enjoying the moment to get the idea:

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I get how back in the day, ashtangis like David Williams and Brad Ramsey, who had the good fortune to be in SoCal, went to Maui and somehow decided to not leave. I mean, any place that makes Encinitas seem . . . well, just OK, is pretty amazing.

As a California girl now setting down roots Michigan, I feel deprived most of the time of vitamin D and the liberating sounds of a coastal town. But it’s more than that. I am most in my element in the heat — when my skin feels warm to the touch. I feel most capable of dealing with life’s challenges, and I feel most at peace. Not surprisingly, I have enjoyed, and appreciated, every minute Scott and I have been here in Maui. I mean, take a look at the view from Ashtana Yoga Maui Mysore Style, a relatively new studio in the town of Pa’ia:

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Pa’ia, by the way, is near where Nancy Gilgoff’s studio is located. Nancy isn’t in town at the moment, so I’ll have to miss out on feeling her shakti in her home studio this time around.

I’m not blogging to share honeymoon photos — that’s the other blog — I’m blogging to share a not totally formed thought on sense of place. Here’s my practice spot outside my hotel room:

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Crazy! I won’t lie — sustained dishti can be a challenge. You sort of want to let your eyes sweep the ocean view before returning to the focal point of your nose in up dog. As they would hashtag on Twitter, I know this is the stuff of #firstworldproblems. I would be happy to be challenged by this type of drishti distraction, and I honestly think it would feel like less effort to sustain the six-day-a-week practice.

But I don’t live in Maui. I no longer live in California. I live in the middle of the Mitten State. Being here has reminded me of how much place can matter, even if you have your mat as your daily refuge. It’s true that if you have your tristana, you have what matters. You could be surrounded by a mess of boxes and practicing on carpet, and none of that matters one iota, because you are doing the yoga practice that is liberating you incrementally, day by day.

But for me, going away is inspirational for the return to my home base. Much like I learned by going to Mt. Shasta last year, short trips away can help me shed layers of baggage I might have with the place that I have to call home — physically, where I live, and emotionally, in the mental spaces I inhabit. What I hope to bottle from Maui is that overarching sense that you can move a little slower on all fronts — starting with driving! — and still be living to the fullest.

P.S. — I just saved the draft of this post and told Scott, “I just wrote a blog post but I have no idea if it makes any sense or not.” Without skipping a beat, he said, “Who cares?”

:-)

[BOOK REVIEW] Yoga kills! No, it cures! Kills! Cures! (Can we take a hiatus from reading popular yoga books? Please?)

I was sent a review copy of Yoga Cures, Tara Stiles’ new book ($17.99 softcover; currently No. 3 in Amazon.com’s yoga category). Yes, that Tara Stiles — the former model and “yoga rebel” (as anointed by The New York Times) who counts Deepak Chopra among her students, and the “new face of fitness” (as anointed by Jane Fonda) who has so elevated the yoga discussion with Slim Calm Sexy Yoga. If you missed the release of Slim Calm Sexy Yoga, you can make up for lost time by reading YogaDork’s predictably snarky take on it.

Stiles is hardly the first yogi to go after some of the weight-loss industry market share. To pick one random example, remember Bryan Kest’s Power Yoga for Weight Loss VHS? (I’m not going to lie — I owned one, maybe even two, Bryan Kest videos back in the day.)

But I digress. In yoga, we have poses and counter-poses that balance them out. In that same vein, Yoga Cures reads like the counter-pose to William J. Broad’s The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards (currently No. 8 in Amazon.com’s yoga category). I read the much-discussed excerpt of his book in the New York Times Magazine but have not yet read the book. That said, I also watched this lengthy interview with Slate. Shoulderstand? Plow? Stay away! “It can send you to the emergency room, or it can send you to the morgue,” Broad tells the interviewer (start around 2:30).

Yoga Cures is all lollipops, cupcakes and balloons by comparison:

Yoga can cure your body, settle your mind, and skyrocket your energy back to kindergarten levels! And if you’re lifting an eyebrow and asking ‘Really?’ just keep reading. How about being a ridiculously happy person with a super-healthy body and calm, focused mind? Yoga can cure everything from depression to anxiety; from old sports injuries and back pain to allergies, PMS, and even hangovers. I can’t think of any reason why someone shouldn’t at least try it, considering all of the incredible and practice benefits that come along with its regular practice. And that’s what this book means to encompass: easy, fun cures using yoga in a fresh way to help alleviate or cure common complaints.

Here is what Stiles says in an interview on Blistree:

Helping people heal themselves through yoga shouldn’t be controversial. Critics of mine want yoga to be exclusive, tightly knit, and for a special club reserved for a select few. Of course they feel threatened because I am simply pointing out that the emperor has no clothes. Yoga is inside everyone, attainable by everyone, without a guru.

Of course, yoga should be accessible — to everyone. Really, everyone. David Swenson has stories about watching Pattabhi Jois help paralyzed students practice yoga. But Stiles would no doubt peg me as a purist, elitist yogi because I think Yoga Cures is a breezy book with photos of an attractive woman taking interesting shapes — nothing too complicated, though! It’s all about being easy! She’s unbearably hip in giving you the low-down on “The Chill the *&@# Out Yoga Cure” and “The Saggy Booty Yoga Cure.” In addition to a saggy booty, the book covers ADD/ADHD, broken heart and even diabetes — more than 50 ailments total.

Elsewhere in the book, Stiles talks about the bigger picture — the eight limbs of yoga, for instance. That’s great. And if she wants to put out a book trying to help people temporarily relieve symptoms, go for it. But to promise cures with just a few simple poses crosses the line, in my mind — and by doing so, puts this book in the same category as late-night infomercials that tease the desperate (hey, I’ve been there) with “cures” in the form of juices and pills.

Quick-fixes of every sort are ubiquitous in our society (5-hour energy shots, anyone?), and this book adds to the cacophony of generic inspiration mixed in with over-the-top promises and a “what have you got to lose” attitude.

Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated — it shouldn’t be out of reach. But it does take effort. Doing three poses (specifically, “standing arm reach,” “tree pose,” and “warrior 3”) won’t magically cure someone with clinical depression, as the book would like you to believe. Feeling down one afternoon? Absolutely, do some yoga and you’ll probably be set. But depression? On the topic of “The Depression Yoga Cure,” Stiles writes:

The yoga cure for depression is simply to practice regularly, even when you don’t feel like it. A little bit of yoga is a better than nothing. The more you practice, the better you’ll feel.

Curing depression is just so simple! Get up! Keep a regular practice! Voila! It’s too bad no one else has ever thought to put together these three poses to cure it.

(I’m thumbing through this book again, desperate now for a cure for reading-induced nausea.)

For a more helpful look at how yoga can help alleviate depression and anxiety — and a glimpse into what a long journey it is — see “Yoga for depression and anxiety.”)

Stiles will call me even more of an elitist now, but here’s the yoga book whose publication I am looking forward to:

While there are countless yoga books out there, 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice is the first to critically examine yoga as it actually exists in North America today. Written by experienced practitioners who are also teachers, therapists, activists, scholars, studio owners, and/or interfaith ministers, this unique set of essays provides a fresh take on the promise and pitfalls of contemporary yoga, exploring its relevance for issues including feminism, body image, psychology, activism, ethics, and spirituality.

This book is being self-published, and there are still a few days left to donate, if you happen to be so inclined. So put down your copy of The Science of Yoga or Yoga Cures and go here to support the project.

21st Century Yoga won’t help the average Joe shed pounds through yoga, but I’m pretty sure Yoga Cures won’t either — so your saggy booty is yours to keep, even if you return the book!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Workshop dispatch: Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa)

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

This is the next in a “Workshop dispatch” series based on the workshops I took with Tim Miller at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio from Friday, April 13, 2012 through Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Tim has taught annually in Columbus for 14 years. This year, he held his traditional weekend (Friday through Sunday) program, but debuted a new intensive program (Monday through Wednesday). Each day of the three-day intensive focused on a different series of the practice. In the mornings, we chatted a little bit and then did a practice that could run up to 2.5 hours (to allow time to do several research, or prep, poses, during the second and third series). In the afternoon, we could ask questions, go over problem spots and generally discuss the practice. (Full workshop description here.) What follows are notes and thoughts from Day 1 of the intensive, which examined the primary series.  

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“You guys are the guinea pigs,” Tim Miller told us on Day 1 of the One-Day Yoga Intensives portion of his annual Yoga on High program. Pretty cool place to be for the roughly 40 of us in the room. Some of us had traveled from out of state, others were Yoga on High teachers, and several in the room were enrolled in Yoga on High’s  teacher training program. (As a side note, I think it’s very cool that Ashtanga students enrolled in YOHI’s teacher training are required to take Tim Miller’s workshops.)

Gunas

Over the course of the three-day intensive, Tim talked about the qualities of each of the series as they relate to the gunas and the pancha kosas (five sheaths). In The Heart of YogaT.K.V. Desikachar describes gunas simply as “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe). In a nutshell, there are three gunas:

  • Sattva, which possesses the quality of harmony
  • Rajas, which possesses the quality of activity
  • Tamas, which possesses the quality of inertia.

Tim was careful to note during the workshops that while we often think of the quality of being sattvic as being the most desirable of the gunas, we need all three for balance. “It’s easy to say tamas is bad, sattvic is good and rajas is mixed,” Tim said. “But you need all three. We are always trying to find balance between these qualities.”

Since we’re on the topic, here is what B.K.S. Iyengar says about the gunas in Light on Life:

As I said, the guna is made up for three complementary forces. They are: tamas (mass or inertia), rajas (vibrancy or dynamism), and sattva (luminosity or the quality of light).

Let us look at a practice example. In asana, we are trying to broach the mass of our gross body, to break up the molecules and divide them into atoms that will allow our vision to penetrate within. Our body resists us. It is muleish. It will not budge. Why? Because in body tamas predominates. It has to. Body needs mass, bones need density, and sinew and muscle need solidity and firmness….

With regard to asana practice, this means that initially we need to exert ourselve more as resistance is greater. Of the two aspects of asana, exertion of our body and penetration of our mind, the latter is eventually more important. Penetration of our mind is the goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.

But once there is movement and then momentum, penetration can start. When effort becomes effortless, asana is at its highest level. Inevitably this is a slow process, and if we break off our practice, inertia reasserts itself. What we are really doing is infusing dense matter with vibrant energy. That is why good practice brings a feeling of lightness and vitality. Though the mass of our body is heavy, we are meant to tread lightly on this earth. (pp. 45-46)

The overarching quality of the primary series, relative to the other series, would be tamasic. Second series: rajastic. Third series, sattvic.

Pancha koshas

In general, the sheaths go from the grossest (most physical) to more subtle manifestations.

  • Annamaya kosa: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosa: Energy body. This is the body of chakras.
  • Manomaya kosa: Body of mental (and emotional) impressions. You find samskaras (habits, conditioning) here.
  • Vijnanamaya kosa: The body of the buddhi (intellect).
  • Anandamaya kosa: Blissful body. The place of the soul. The place of unconditioned awareness. (Iyengar refers to this sheath as the divine body.)

It was very helpful for me that Tim discussed the sheaths as one of those nesting Russian dolls.

Primary series

Whew. That’s a lot of necessary lead in. Let’s get to the primary series itself. Primary series — Yoga Chitiksa (“Yoga Therapy,”) works most on the outer doll. The physical sheath. Tim noted that if we work on one doll, it does affect the other dolls.

The first series has a slew of health benefits, as anyone who has practiced the series consistently understands. It is designed to:

  • Restore the body
  • Detox us
  • Restore natural range of motion to our joints
  • Restore sensitivity to our sense organs

The practice also helps to reduce excess adipose tissue (yep, that’s body fat).

Think of all the forward folds and twists in the first series (if you’re new to the series, you can see the poses here). Primary works quite a bit on:

  • The gastrointestinal system
  • Digestion
  • Assimilation
  • Elimination

If the concept of the pancha kosas — the five sheaths — is new to you, I recommend reading Light on Life. And, of course, try to find time to study with Tim Miller. I’m sure he’ll be doing more of these one-day intensives now that he’s had the chance to test it out on our group.

Tim said this about the Ashtanga method as we were discussing the primary series: “It’s very scientific. It’s very sophisticated. And best of all, it works.” Seeing these notes again remind me that Steve of The Confluence Countdown recently posted an interview with Eddie Stern about a new yoga study that includes what is essentially a distillation of part of the primary series. Interesting stuff.

My relationship with the practice

On a personal level, the primary series has been an incredibly positive influence for me — for years the metronomic quality of the practice was about the only calm consistency in my life that I could point to — but the process has been as slow as molasses. Some people fly through primary. Not me.

I spent years and years without an Ashtanga teacher, and cobbled together a practice based on a couple of weekend workshops with David Swenson and some practice cards. I was lucky enough to be in a led class taught by Pattabhi Jois when he paid a visit to Montreal during one of his North American tours, but I still didn’t understand the series well enough by that time to even get into the marichyasana twists without assistance.

During those lonely years without a teacher, I had enough internal drive to know this was good for me, but not enough tapas to practice daily and fully wring out the benefits of the practice. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had met Tim Miller or Angela Jamison all those years ago. Despite knowing that the past is what it is and there’s no point dwelling on it, I admit to still having twinges of regret now and then — less so for what my practice could be now that I am on the cusp of turning 36 (though I would be lying if I didn’t say that is part of it), and more so for what better choices I could have made in my life had I had a consistent daily practice in my 20s.

The silver lining for all this is that I have a deep well of patience for teaching primary series, and I invest as much as I can to trying to help students who seem to need someone to put them in closer touch with their practice. As I told one of my students once, every single one of your challenges with the practice becomes a gift you have for your students. And my god, have I had an abundance of challenges — from my unforgiving work schedules to the far-from-any-shala locations I have lived to the less-than-ideal body proportions that makes poses like supta kurmasana and pasasana a steep uphill journey.

Ah, pasasana — the gateway pose to second series. We’ll get to that in the next blog post.

(Photo: My friend Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice. Jen teaches Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga and Pilates in Washington, D.C. If you’re in D.C., check her out — she’s excellent.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Workshop dispatch: ‘Bullet Train to Samadhi’

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I’ve packed up my little red Corolla to be ready to leave Columbus, Ohio this evening. Today is the final of six days’ worth of workshops with Tim Miller held at Yoga on High, and people are chilling and reading or chatting and drinking coffee (or, in my case, double-fisting coffee and Vitamin water while blogging) as we wait for the morning’s session to start.

This is my third year attending Tim’s annual April visit to Yoga on High (here is YOHI’s blog, btw), and it’s been the most fulfilling. The first year I came here, I was still working to smooth out the rough edges of my personal and work life. Last year around this time, a lot had been worked out, and while my life wasn’t exactly fully grounded and comfortable, it was getting there. I was a much lighter person than I had been 12 months earlier. One of my friends at Yoga on High even commented that she had sensed a big change in me from 2010 to 2011. Changing jobs was a big thing; getting my personal life in order was too.

This year, I feel so grateful for where things are. I have a fulfilling job that pays the bills (working in the strategic communications field) and a fulfilling job that doesn’t (teaching yoga). I am a month away from getting married to someone who has shown unwavering support of me and has been far sweeter to me than I probably deserve. And this time next month, I will hopefully be a first-time homeowner — which means, among other things, that I will have a dedicated yoga and meditation space.

Like clockwork, Tim wrote a blog post yesterday for this Tuesdays with Timji blog. He discussed how much he enjoys his friends and traditions here in Columbus, and he touched on the final three days of the workshop designed for yoga teachers:

Today was day five of a six day teaching gig which began with a weekend workshop for all comers and has continued with a three day intensive specifically designed for teachers. Iʼm trying a new format this year, focusing on the primary series the first day, the second series today and the third series tomorrow. Itʼs a rather ambitious format, kind of like a bullet train to samadhi. My idea was to relate each series to ne of the koshas, so Monday was the anamaya kosha, today was the pranamaya kosha, and tomorrow will be the manomaya kosha.

“Bullet train to samadhi.” I love that line.

I’ve only written one post since I arrived in Columbus (my schedule has felt as packed with social gatherings as it has been with yoga sessions, which has made the trip that much more fun), but I hope to kick out at least four more after returning home. What I will say for now is that while I can’t credit Tim for the positive trajectory of my life since I first met him in 2010 — he doesn’t control my karma — I do know that learning from him and being in the presence of someone with so much knowledge, experience, sincere passion, equanimity and radiance has been incredibly beneficial not just to my yoga practice or to my yoga teaching, but to every aspect of my life.

I had dinner last night with three wonderful women, and at one point, we talked about the teachers who inspire us most. It’s cool how a table can light up when the topic turns to good yoga teachers.

So if you want a bullet train to samadhi, do your practice as consistently as the circumstances in your life allow (six days a week is best, of course, but do what you can), and seek out the gifted and sincere teachers who inspire you most. Travel, because some of your best money will be spent on yoga trainings. Your car that’s barreling toward Columbus — or wherever — might just be a bullet train in disguise.

Workshop description:

==Ashtanga Yoga Weekend Intensive==
When you practice ashtanga yoga, you are a part of a lineage. Tim Miller is a key figure in carrying this tradition forward having studied so intensively with Sri Pattabhi Jois over so long a time.  We are honored to host Tim each year—join us to spend a weekend working (playfully!) with a yoga master. Weekend intensives can help shift your practice to a deeper level and offer you insight into how the primary series works in individual poses and as a whole circle of poses. You will also learn more about your lineage and how the physical work leads you to the state of yoga. A light practice on Friday night will establish a relationship between yoga philosophy as presented in the Yoga Sutras and the practical methodology of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Saturday’s practice will focus on the Primary Series as physical manifestation of this relationship. Saturday afternoon will explore the morning practice in more depth—to look at troublesome asanas and address specific problems, concerns, and questions. Sunday’s class will be playful, spontaneous, and improvisational, and explore the whole notion of intelligent sequencing in moving towards a particular destination. Sunday will also include an introduction to pranayama.

Dates: Friday, April 13, 7:30p to 9:30p, Saturday, April 14, 11:00a to 6:00p
& Sunday, April 15, 9:00a to 4:00p.
Cost: $250.00

==Tim Miller One-Day Intensives==
K. Pattabhi Jois, better known as Guruji, devoted 70 years of his life to researching and teaching the methodology that we know as Ashtanga Yoga.  Based on the foundational teachings he was given by his Guru, the great T. Krishnamacharya, Guruji spent many years putting together the asana sequences that have come to be called Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series), Nadi Shodhana (Intermediate Series), and Sthira Bhaga (Advanced Series).  All of these sequences went through changes over the years and have only been practiced in their current form for the past 30 years.   It was largely through Guruji’s interaction with his western students that these sequences were refined into their present form.  The western students have been both the primary guinea pigs and the main beneficiaries of this refining of the system.

Tim Miller had the rare opportunity to work closely with Guruji for over 30 years and has practiced and taught these sequences faithfully since 1978.  He brings a wealth of experience, understanding, expertise and devotion to the transmission of Guruji’s methodology as well as a thorough knowledge of the philosophical foundations of the practice—the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In this intensive, Tim will guide an exploration of Guruji’s first three asana sequences, devoting one day to each.  Monday’s practice will be Yoga Chikitsa, Tuesday’s will be Nadi Shodhana, and Wednesday’s will be Sthira Bhaga.  Tim will offer an in-depth explanation of the purpose of these sequences as well as adaptations and preparations for some of the more challenging asanas.  The three days will include selected yoga sutras, an introduction to the traditional Ashtanga pranayama sequence, stories from Indian mythology and a small taste of kirtan.

Dates: Monday, April 16 through Wednesday April 18, 9:00a-5:00p daily

One-Day Intensives First Series: April 16, Second Series: April 17 and Third Series: April 18

Intensives: $150  or $395 for all three days

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Workshop dispatch: Baby warrior escapes scrutiny while short-legged chicken spotlighted

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Through the stories that Pattabhi Jois’ students tell of his teachings, it’s clear that humor was a key part of his beloved teaching style. I think what was true of Guruji is also true of Tim Miller.

For me personally, this is most evident in the way Tim corrects my poses.

For instance, last year, I realized how far from my edge I was in virabhadrasana A when Tim came up to me and said, “What is this baby warrior?” Yep, I have an unenviably short stance in warrior A — and even then, I spend most of the five breaths wishing I were out of the pose.

I’m writing this from Columbus, Ohio — it’s my third time taking Tim Miller’s annual workshop at Yoga on High here — and today was a double header on the getting called out front. Although I am pretty sure my baby warrior has only managed to make it to toddler stage, I didn’t get called out on that pose.

But in utkatasana (chair), a pose I am always adjusted in when I take vinyasa classes, Tim called out from a few mats away: “Bends your knees, Rose!”

BUSTED.

I shook my head, laughed a little bit, and, knowing that I couldn’t get away with it any longer, sank a few inches down. Although I’ve made my peace with chair pose, I still don’t like it, and I still hang out at high elevations even though I know you need to drill down to truly get the internal fire going. Yes, part of it’s physical. Yes, part of it’s emotional.

What I’ve noticed is that Tim’s adjustments of me during led practices often focus on deficiencies in my tapas-inducing poses — not sinking low enough in utkatasana or virabhadrasana A. It’s the stuff of internal heat and granthis (knots).

But his adjustments also speak to lifestyle issues. Once, during one of his “Asana Doctor” workshops, I asked for help with marichyasana D. We struggled with it for a while, and then Tim looked at me and said, “Well . . . maybe a kilo or two?” (Translated: Shedding some pounds will assist in binding this pose.”)

I laughed out loud because it was so funny how he put it. I know it’s hard to discern when you’re simply reading it in this post rather than being in the room, but trust me — he totally diffused the comment with humor.

And he was right — that period was what I hope will turn out to be the low point of my sustaining terrible eating habits (endless and repetitive selections of processed foods that went against what my body needed). My struggles with mari D said a lot about my body structure and the areas of density in my back and shoulders, but it also said a lot about my diet — and diet is integral to the Ashtanga method.

Anyway, I noted earlier that today was a double header. In garbha pindasana, since I didn’t have a spray bottle with me — I don’t take those to led classes — I could only get part of my arms through my legs. Let’s say about four inches past my wrists. (When I have a spray bottle to lubricate, I can get my arms through and get my hands to my head. I know that the practice is designed so that by this time in the practice, your sweat will be your lubrication. I don’t seem to sweat enough in the salient spaces to rely on sweat alone, though. Sweat pours — pours! — down my face. Backs of my knees, and that general region? Dry as a desert.)

I did my nine rolls and got to kukutasana (rooster pose), but since I barely had any clearance, my knees were nearly down to the mat. Tim came by and stopped in front of me.

He said something like, “Oh . . . why chicken with such short legs?”

I was not the only one laughing at that one.

It might sound harsh out of context, but humor is a fantastic teaching tool because it can diffuse a situation and signal to a student that the comment — as critical as it might sound — is being made without any judgement.

I believe in laughing at least once during each of my home practices — whether it’s because I fall out of a pose in a totally ridiculous way or because I mangle a pose so horribly I wonder what could have possibly led to that. Sometimes I laugh because it’s comical how much effort it took get out of bed that morning.

Now I have two more reasons to laugh in primary series, and two more spots in the practice to focus on. So hopefully by this time next year, my baby warrior would have made it to at least the tween years, and my water-free chicken legs will have seen a growth spurt.

(Photo credit: Via urbanmkr’s flicker photo stream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

[LAUGHS] ‘Who cools down in 175 degrees? A Komodo Dragon?’ (a counter-post to my Bikram yoga post)

"Yoga mats in a bin" by Cowbite's Flickr photostream

Usually, when I’m funny, it’s unintended. When I try, it turns out like this (cute at best — LMAO material? Hardly.). That’s why I appreciate funny people — especially funny writers. And I especially anyone who can poke a little fun at the yoga scene.

This Craiglist ad for a yoga mat falls into that category. It’s from the Best of Seattle Craiglist, and it made my day yesterday. (Thanks for sharing it with me, chica!) This is the perfect counter-post, if you will, to my rather serious post the other day about my experience in a Bikram yoga class.

Here it is (the bolds are mine, to help you speed through this if you want to): _______________________________________________________________________

Yoga mat for sale. Used once at lunch hour class in December 2009. Usage timeline as follows: 

11:45a
Register for hot yoga class. Infinite wisdom tells me to commit to 5 class package and purchase a yoga mat. I pay $89.74. Money well spent, I smugly confirm to myself. 

11:55a
Open door to yoga room. A gush of hot dry air rushes through and past me. It smells of breath, sweat and hot. Take spot on floor in back of room next to cute blonde. We will date.

11:57a
I feel the need to be as near to naked as possible. This is a problem because of the hot blonde to my left and our pending courtship. She will not be pleased to learn that I need to lose 30 pounds before I propose to her.

11:58a
The shirt and sweats have to come off. I throw caution to the wind and decide to rely on my wit and conditioning to overcome any weight issues my fiancée may take issue with. This will take a lot of wit and conditioning.

11:59a
Begin small talk with my bride to be. She pretends to ignore me but I know how she can be. I allow her to concentrate and stare straight ahead and continue to pretend that I don’t exist. As we finish sharing our special moment, I am suddenly aware of a sweat moustache that has formed below my nose. This must be from the all the whispering between us.

12:00p
Instructor enters the room and ascends her special podium at the front of the room. She is a slight, agitated Chinese woman. She introduces me to the class and everyone turns around to greet me just as I decide to aggressively adjust my penis and testes packed in my Under Armor. My bride is notably unfazed.

12:02p
Since I do have experience with Hot Yoga (4 sessions just 5 short years ago) I fully consider that I may be so outstanding and skilled that my instructor may call me out and ask me to guide the class. My wife will look on with a sparkle in her eye. We will make love after class.

12:10p
It is now up to 95 degrees in the room. We have been practicing deep breathing exercises for the last 8 minutes. This would not be a problem if we were all breathing actual, you know, oxygen. Instead, we are breathing each other’s body odor, expelled carbon dioxide and other unmentionables. (Don’t worry, I’ll mention them later.)

12:26p
It is now 100 degrees and I take notice of the humidity, which is hovering at about 90%. I feel the familiar adorning stare of my bride and decide to look back at her. She appears to be nauseated. I then realize that I forgot to brush my teeth prior to attending this class. We bond.

12:33p
It is now 110 degrees and 95% humidity. I am now balancing on one leg with the other leg crossed over the other. My arms are intertwined and I am squatting. The last time I was in this position was 44 years ago in the womb, but I’m in this for the long haul. My wife looks slightly weathered dripping sweat and her eyeliner is streaming down her face. Well, “for better or worse” is what we committed to so we press on.

12:40p
The overweight Hispanic man two spots over has sweat running down his legs. At least I think its sweat. He is holding every position and has not had a sip of water since we walked in. He is making me look bad and I hate him.

12:44p
I consider that if anyone in this room farted that we would all certainly perish.

12:52p
It is now 140 degrees and 100% humidity. I am covered from head to toe in sweat. There is not a square millimeter on my body that is not slippery and sweaty. I am so slimy that I feel like a sea lion or a maybe sea eel. Not even a bear trap could hold me. The sweat is stinging my eyeballs and I can no longer see.

12:55p
This room stinks of asparagus, cloves, tuna and tacos. There is no food in the room. I realize that this is an amalgamation of the body odors of 30 people in a 140 degree room for the last 55 minutes. Seriously, enough with the asparagus, ok? 

1:01p
140 degrees and 130% humidity. Look, bitch, I need my space here so don’t get all pissy with me if I accidentally sprayed you with sweat as I flipped over. Seriously, is that where this relationship is going? Get over yourself. We need counseling and she needs to be medicated. Stat!

1:09p
150 degrees and cloudy. And hot. I can no longer move my limbs on my own. I have given up on attempting any of the commands this Chinese chick is yelling out at us. I will lay sedentary until the aid unit arrives. I will buy this building and then have it destroyed.
I lose consciousness.

1:15p
I have a headache and my wife is being a selfish bitch. I can’t really breathe. All I can think about is holding a cup worth of hot sand in my mouth. I cannot remember what an ice cube is and cannot remember what snow looks like. I consider that my only escape might be a crab walk across 15 bodies and then out of the room. I am paralyzed, and may never walk again so the whole crab walk thing is pretty much out.

1:17p
I cannot move at all and cannot reach my water. Is breathing voluntary or involuntary? If it’s voluntary, I am screwed. I stopped participating in the class 20 minutes ago. Hey, lady! I paid for this frickin class, ok?! You work for me! Stop yelling at everyone and just tell us a story or something. It’s like juice and cracker time, ok? 

1:20p
It is now 165 degrees and moisture is dripping from the ceiling. The towel that I am laying on is no longer providing any wicking or drying properties. It is actually placing additional sweat on me as I touch it. My towel reeks. I cannot identify the smell but no way can it be from me. Did someone spray some stank on my towel or something? 

1:30p
Torture session is over. I wish hateful things upon the instructor. She graciously allows us to stay and ‘cool down’ in the room. It is 175 degrees. Who cools down in 175 degrees? A Komodo Dragon? My wife has left the room. Probably to throw up. 

1:34p
My opportunity to escape has arrived. I roll over to my stomach and press up to my knees. It is warmer as I rise up from ground level – probably by 15 degrees. So let’s conservatively say it’s 190. I muster my final energy and slowly rise. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Towards the door. Towards the door.

1:37p
The temperature in the lobby is 72 degrees. Both nipples stiffen to diamond strength and my penis begins to retract into my abdomen from the 100 degree temp swing. I can once again breathe though so I am pleased. I spot my future ex wife in the lobby. We had such a good thing going but I know that no measure of counseling will be able to unravel the day’s turmoil and mental scaring.

1:47p
Arrive at Emerald City Smoothie and proceed to order a 32 oz beverage. 402 calories, 0 fat and 14 grams of protein — effectively negating any caloric burn or benefit from the last 90 minutes. I finish it in 3 minutes and spend the next 2 hours writing this memoir. 

3:47p
Create Craigslist ad while burning final 2 grams of protein from Smoothie and before the “shakes” consume my body.

4:29p
Note to self – check car for missing wet yoga towel in am.

(Photo credit: “Yoga mats in a bin” via Cowbite’s Flickr photostream/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Lowering the ugh factor: 7 things I’ve done for my digestive system

Photo of ginger via london_lime's Flickr photostreamToday’s mail brought the regular round of advertising circulars. Ponderosa Steakhouse’s unlimited sirloin steak and shrimp offer on weekends. Applebee’s new — NEW! — blackened chicken penne and Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp. Jet’s Pizza.

Eh, eh and eh. None of it is at all appetizing.

(OK, full disclosure: the pizza is still kind of appealing.) The larger point is, the longer I practice Ashtanga consistently, the harder it is for me to eat out. Like many teenagers, I developed a taste for awful fast food in high school — the Mexican pizza at Taco Bell, the fish sandwich at McDonald’s, the curly fries at Arby’s. While my eating habits have improved — slowly — over the years, I have terrible proclivities compared with the yogis I know. I don’t like juicing. I have zero desire to eat raw food. And so on.

Over the past year or so, however, what’s been exciting for me is that I’ve been craving better food, even if I haven’t necessarily been eating better food.

Is it possible that I’ve been retraining my cravings? I hope so (pizza cravings notwithstanding).

Now the big challenge is making it happen: Craving better food and then converting that craving into action by actually eating better food. This is hard because it would require that I spend more time acquiring and preparing food. In my current kitchen calculus, if it takes four steps, it’s on the time-consuming side. And I consider tearing off the packaging to be one step. I know, I know  . . .

It’s not just a matter of principle for me. I really need to eat better, because it’s been affecting how I feel. This past December, after my tests for celiac problems came back negative, I devoted a blog post discussing that ugh feeling plaguing my digestive system. A follow-up blog post listed some great suggestions shared with me.

I’m cautiously happy to report that I’ve been feeling better over the past few months. Here are some steps I’ve taken — thanks the advice of a range of people and, in one ironic case, a fast-food delivery joint — since December:

  • Practiced nauli more consistently in the morning.
  • Started taking probiotics (one capsule daily).
  • Dramatically reduced my coffee intake — down to about one or two cups a week at this point. (I’ve substituted this habit with a pomegranate oolong tea latte from Biggby in the mornings. While this is an improvement, it’s also expensive to do this several times a week, so I have to wean myself off this soon too.)
  • When possible, switching from cow’s milk and soy milk to almond milk. (Looking back, soy milk never sat all that well with me. But I had this idea that it was healthier. Almond milk rocks! Who knew.)
  • Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch (hello, sandwiches held together with large Romaine lettuce leaves!).
  • Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.
  • Started eating smaller dinners.

I’ll elaborate on three of these.

Nauli

Here is what Lisa Walford has written about nauli:

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that Nauli stimulates the digestive fire, thereby removing toxins, indigestion, and constipation. It is considered a Shat Karma, which is an internal cleansing to aid with excess phlegm, mucus, or fat.

If you don’t practice yoga, I know nauli looks crazy. But trust me — it’s not painful. I think it feels pretty good when you’re done — it’s hard to explain, but I sort of feel as if I’ve stirred the pot and prevented stagnation.

Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch

This has made a huge difference to how I feel during all afternoon on a workday — and I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I got the idea from a fast food place. A freaky fast fast food place, in fact — Jimmy John’s Unwich. It’s a regular sandwich, except it’s got leaves of lettuce holding it together rather than a wrap or bread. I’ve been packing my own lunches with my own lettuce-wrapped creations, including breakfast sandwiches. They’re delicious, and I don’t feel heavy or bloated afterward.

Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.

This is an Ayurvedic thing. I don’t know anything about Ayurveda, but this is what the California College of Ayurveda says about poor digestion:

The symptoms of poor digestion include excessive gas, constipation, diarrhea, burping, burning, vomiting, indigestion, bloating and pain. In various forms, Western medicine has given them names such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis and pancreatitis among many others. Through the eyes of Ayurveda, the practitioner comes to an understanding of the cause through examining one’s lifestyle. Faulty eating practices are the number one culprit, poor food choices and poor food combing are next in line. Together they make up the major causes of digestive disease.

Why ginger and cayenne? According to this same site:

Kledaka Kapha [subdosha governing the protective secretions which line mucous membranes] can also be too high. When this occurs it suppresses the agni resulting in slow digestion and possible nausea. This condition results from too many heavy, sweet foods and is best treated with the category of herbs called dipanas which increase agni and diminish kledaka. This includes the Indian herbs chitrak and the Ayurvedic formula trikatu as well as common pungents such as ginger and cayenne pepper.

Interested in learning more? I am too. You can start by following the Jangalikayamane blog and reading “How Jedi Knights Should Eat” from the AY:A2 blog. Here’s a juicy excerpt from that blog post, which several yogis I know have welcomed not only for its ideas, but for its perfect timing in their lives:

In any case, those years of “research” and strict food rules did teach me a lot, and did render my digestive fire extremely strong and healthy. Luckily, I kept coming to my mat every day without a break, so gradually I started understanding surrender. Now that I’m more interested in radical acceptance of my own social, temporal, and environmental contexts, and of my own desires, it is easier to nest my eating habits not only my body’s energy economy, but also in the context of personal and environmental relationships.

Had I been more in contact with my own wisdom in those days, my relationship with food would have balanced discipline with contemplation. Turns out that the Ayurvedic approach to eating does just this. The way I’ve been learning it, Ayurveda is not a set of fixes or healing strategies. It’s a holographic map of the whole web of manifest reality. The Ayurvedic approach to eating isn’t an arcane prescription for fixing one’s doshas; it’s a set of practices for becoming conscious of the inner and outer webs of our being.

You don’t even have to study it. Just imagine. What if you showed up to your hunger, and your food, the way you show up to our yoga room and to your physical practice? So… you’d put time and awareness in to getting the conditions right. Do a gratitude ritual. Care about where the recipe and the ingredients come from. Practice in silence, and in excellent company. Breathe. Act with clear, loving attention. Regard strong thought and emotional patterns with a bit of cool skepticism. Take a long finishing sequence to absorb the benefits.

Quick fix? Yeah right. Not in ashtanga and not in eating. This practice teaches us that our bodies are vehicles for past and future choices. Love the rough spots into fluidity, day by day, and let the painful stuff get easier. Recognize that especially deep patterns got there as a result of grasping and repetition, and we don’t get out of them for free.

The yoga thing is about action and observation, and finding that these two are not separate. Action can be luminously conscious. Takes practice.

So, how about applying that “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” concept to food?

(Photo credit: “Ginger” via london_lime’s Flickr photostream.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

Shhh. I’d like to practice, please. (Or, why Bikram yoga isn’t for me.)

It’s a holy time — Easter and Passover. Because I don’t celebrate either (I was raised as a Buddhist), it’s been a very quiet day for me. No family get-togethers, no religious or social gatherings. The loudest thing I heard outdoors today has been the high winds that sent my apartment complex’s display flags toppling over. It’s been relatively quiet indoors too. I had the chance to do my practice in an empty studio just before a private yoga lesson with a student. And it was so lovely to practice while hearing just the sound of my breath and the click-click-click of the wall clock.

So, I suppose this is as good a day as any to talk about the sounds of practice, which I’ve found myself thinking about quite a bit since I started teaching yoga. What are useful sounds that support the practice? What are distracting sounds that take away from the practice?

I’ve written before about why I don’t use music in the classes I teach. The more time I get in Mysore rooms — especially energetically intense ones like the Mysore classes at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — the less I enjoy it when there’s a lot of noise in yoga classes that I take. That includes music and talking — especially instructors who seem to be uncomfortable with silence, and work tirelessly to fill in emptiness with chatter.

I took my first Bikram yoga class last month, when I was in St. Louis for a Radiohead show. I thought I would leave that class thinking a lot about the heat (Bikram classes are heated to 105 degrees and the humidity is kept at 40 percent). The contrast of externally blasting the heat compared with the Ashtanga method, which believes in practitioners creating their own heat through breath and energy locks, could not have starker.

The more jarring thing about the class, for me, was the sound. It was incessant. I don’t think I had 10 seconds of uninterrupted focus, because the instructor, who wore a headset, talked the whole time. I remember lots of miked encouragement to “push, and push, and push” and “lock the knee.” (Never been to Bikram class? You can get the picture by reading through the official Bikram “yoga dialogue.”)

This is not a criticism of the instructor. And I know some ashtangis who also love Bikram yoga, and swear by the Bikram method’s benefits. I’m not trying to take anything away from it — this post reflects my opinion of Bikram, and more power to you if the method has given you what you sought or outright changed your life — but wow, this was not the yoga for me, if for the level of chatter alone.

The journalist in me is compelled to bring some balance into this post and note that it may not be that simple. This blog post of a first-time Bikram student settles on the idea that you’re not supposed to listen to what’s being said:

After the class, I found myself chatting with the receptionist about my first class.

“I like that my skin feels so clean.” It really did—I felt like I had perspired until there was nothing but pure water left in my pores. “But are there any instructors here who don’t….talk so much?”

“The continuous dialogue?” he said. “That’s one of the pillars of Bikram yoga.”

“Like heat.”

“Heat and continuous dialogue and the patented series of 26 postures.”

“It kind of gets to me.”

“That’s the challenge, to see if you can tune it out. That’s why it’s a signature of the style.”

Surprisingly, you never hear about this.  (“Oh, you do Bikram?  The yoga with continuous verbal dialogue, right?”) But to me it was Bikram’s salient feature: that everything they said was allegedly for you not to hear. And more importantly: that I couldn’t stop listening.

It was humbling.  I went in feeling like a yoga champ and left realizing what a novice I was in that most basic respect: mental control. Trying a new yoga style was like traveling to a foreign country—coming face to face with a new way of thinking and living. In the end it wasn’t about sweat, heat, or Bikram and waiting for his continuous dialogue to end—it was simply (and not simply) a matter of finding ways to quiet my own.

The blogger in me gets to say yeah, whatever. It sounds awfully convenient to me to copyright a dialog — the whole McYoga argument so often leveled against the Bikram style — and have it both ways by saying you’re supposed to tune it out. When you have pages and pages of scripted text that instructors are required to use, how can there be room for observation and insight?

This is from a blog post called “The Poverty of Verbal Instruction” by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, my Ashtanga teacher:

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.

. . .

My teachers have taught me to give little or no response to students’ self-limiting stories, to teach with one’s own personality glazed over to support students’ depth of internal focus, and to do everything possible to prevent chit-chat in the room. My teaching mentors see discursive talk in a practice room as mostly useless. So gradually, and without using words, they showed me how to teach from a very quiet place.

I do offer new students verbal instruction. If someone is reaching out for an anchor or feedback, I’ll even give a little eye contact. And there might be some talk to smooth the transition into the odd culture of a Mysore room. Proprioception and concentration are still developing, after all. But pretty soon in this scenario, we come into contact with the ways that chit-chat and personality-to-personality interactions weaken and clutter the practice. I become more still in order to get out of your way, to let you refine your own beautiful habits of mind-body. It is so nice to be in the room as you realize that you’re ok with whatever arises, as you open to new sensations, as you settle in to just being there, creating and experiencing experience.

As a journalist by training, I fundamentally believe in the power of words. Absolutely. But sometimes we work against ourselves. My journalism professors at Columbia University taught me the power behind the idea that in journalistic writing, less is more.

I’d say the same is true for a yoga room.

>>Related topic, sort of: For what it’s worth, I enjoyed “Solitude in practice; or why Ashtanga is the best style of yoga,” a blog post that briefly touches on the idea of solitude and quiet.

(Photo credit: Stille-Silence_2 via respontour’s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer: What is it ashtangis talk about when they talk about ‘ladies’ holiday’?

"Stay perky through your period" Midol print ad from 1945

“Stay perky through your period” Midol print ad from 1945

There are at least three ways you could have guessed that it’s that time of month for me:

  • I have chocolate within reach on my kitchen counter at home; on the table behind my desk at work; and, for a while, I had a Twix bar in my purse. (I don’t always get cravings for chocolate during my cycle, but for whatever reason, the urges have been quite strong this time around.)
  • I’ve been wanting to go to bed early (rather than having to force myself).
  • I haven’t practiced Ashtanga for two days.

I feel as if my six-day-a-week practice has helped me experience my menstrual cycles a little differently — in a good way — so I thought this would be the perfect time to do a YogaRose.net Explainer on “ladies’ holiday.”

What are Ashtanga yoga practitioners referring to when they talk about “ladies’ holiday”?

Maybe you’ve heard ashtangis quietly talking about it. Maybe you saw the quite funny “Sh*t Ashtangis Say” YouTube video that made the rounds a while back (that very catty scene where a woman is saying, “Yeah, I’ve noticed she’s been taking a lot of ladies’ holidays . . . “). Maybe you sort of know what everyone is referring to, but aren’t 100 percent sure.

In a nutshell, the idea is that practicing Ashtanga during your menstrual cycle goes against the energetic grain. You’re trying to engage the strong upward flow of the energetic locks of the practice — mula bandha and uddiyana bandha — while your body has a strong downward flow.

Here is Kimberly Flynn explaining ladies’ holiday in a way only that only she can:

What do women who practice Ashtanga think about this?

As you can imagine, there’s not consensus on this issue. Some bristle at the thought of being benched during this time and ignore this aspect of the tradition. Others relish it. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, for instance, Nancy Gilgoff asked women who were on their cycle to watch the led primary series class instead of practice. (I thought could feel the hesitation in the room when several women had to make that decision of whether to roll up their mat and find a spot to sit and watch.) Nancy explained that when she first started studying in Mysore in the ’60s, the idea that she shouldn’t be practicing during her period went against the spirit of the feminist movement. But she came around on the issue based on the energetic conflict.

Heidi Quinn of Monterey Yoga Shala said this to The Confluence Countdown:

After hearing various theories regarding the Ladies’ Holiday – Should I practice or not? –  Nancy finally offered an explanation I could support.  She explains it as a way to honor our bodies, a way to respect the body’s natural inclinations toward depletion and fatigue, and to support the downward flow – apana.

Here is Yoga Mama‘s take:

When I first started to practice Ashtanga yoga I did not adhere to “Ladies’ holidays” and I still have a little bit of a problem with the “ladies” word, but I am not about to try and change Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ language to suit my own.

As Ashtanga became a regular part of my life and I became more aware of my bodies needs, I have grown to love these “ladies’ holidays” and find a quietness and stillness in these non-physical practice days. When I return to my mat, I feel softer and it feels like a renewal on all levels. This is how I seem to practice yoga these days. My body [and mind] now has a cycle that is flowing. I no longer feel the need to go against my natural cycle and can now embrace the feminine changes (most of the time).

Here is Katie Scanlon-Gehn‘s take:

This is something that I get asked a lot and because I’ve always sort of rebelled against anyone telling me not to do something I’ve also rebelled against the whole idea that women can’t do something just because they are menstruating. But as usual, after my initial reaction to authority, followed by empirical investigation and experience plus a dose of mellowing with age – and even I can see some value to the practice of “ladies holiday.”

What do you think about this?

When I didn’t have a regular yoga practice, I didn’t think anything of practicing during my period. But over the years, as I found a more regular practice, I started noticing how it didn’t feel great to practice at that time — but I usually did anyway. At some point, though, it struck me so clearly in class that bandhas don’t work during this time. Not even a little bit. At that point, I stopped practicing Ashtanga during my cycle, but would still practice vinyasa or power yoga.

Now that I have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice, I feel much more connected to my body on several levels — my cycle being one of them. Periods have become less of an intrusion on my daily schedule and more of a time to slow down and listen — feel — what’s happening in this body of mine. It’s more time to observe, and a different way to try to practice non-attachment — in my case, letting go of the idea that my highly constructed schedule shouldn’t change (i.e., slow down) to accomodate the power of this natural flow. As a consequence, I’ve joined the ranks of women who have come to appreciate the tradition, and I happily honor it.

One thing in particular that I’ve noticed about my body during this current cycle is that damn  . . . that dark chocolate is being received so warmly. 😉 

(Graphic credit: Midol print ad from 1945 via the genibee Flickr photostream.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer: Help! I hate practicing on carpet, but I want a home practice. What can I do?

A view of my mat folded over to show the LifeBoard base layer

This post is for the yogi who wants to build a home practice but can’t stand practicing on carpet. So often in yoga, there’s no easy answer to the “how can I . . . ?” question. In this case, I think there is a relatively straightforward answer to the question, “How can I make practicing on carpet feel better?”

Answer: Buy two pieces of interlocking plastic called the LifeBoard.

I heard about this product — which is made specifically for yoga and Pilates — through someone’s comment posted last year on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page (a great Facebook yoga page to “like,” by the way).

I’ve been using this board for a few months now, and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say it has eliminated my complaints about practicing on carpet — in particular, the inevitable hills and valleys you get on the mat when you’re not practicing on a hardwood or cork floor. Do I still prefer to practice on beautiful hardwood floors? Absolutely. But that’s become merely an aesthetic consideration.

Here’s how the two pieces of the board look from the underside (in case you’re wondering, that’s our brown couch peeking through the middle):

LifeBoard -- two pieces upright, view from the underside

The way you hook them together is to hold on to the handles of the boards with the undersides facing you, and draw the boards away from you as you interlock the jagged edges in the center.

Then you lay that on the floor. I set my black mat on top of the board, and drape my Mysore rug on top of that. The completed board is just big enough for my mat:

LifeBoard -- with my mat and rug on top (you see a sliver of the board extend beyond the mat)

Now, if you have one of those extra wide John Friend Manduka mats (not sure what the fate of those mats will be, by the way), this would probably not work. Ditto for anyone with an extra long mat.

Here are the board’s specs from the LifeBoard website:

  • Non-skid top surface prevents yoga mat from slipping on the LifeBoard yoga floor
  • Cleated bottom surface prevents the LifeBoard yoga floor from slipping on carpet
  • Made of recyclable high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and shipped in boxes made of 100% recycled material. The black LifeBoard uses 50% recycled material.
  • Several dollars from each purchase goes to a nonprofit organization called Skyline Center in Clinton, IA. They provide rehabilitation services and work programs for disabled adults. They do the shipping and handling for us.
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • 73” L x 28 3/4” W x 5/8” H (assembled) – just a little larger than a standard yoga mat
  • Lightweight – approximately 8.5 lbs per panel, 17 lbs total

In an Ashtanga primary series practice, I don’t think there are many considerations that need to be taken into account, except that I’d imagine newer practitioners need to be extra careful in garbha pindasana rolls and in chakrasana. In second series, you’re over the edge of the board in parsva dhanurasana, and in nakrasana you’re jumping off the board, but neither of those situations seems to be a problem.

The other part of the equation for not minding practicing on carpet, of course, is tristana — the focus on the pose, the breath/bandhas and the dristi. With that level of focus, your surroundings sort of melt away anyway, right?

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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 for depression and anxiety

I was happy to be able to snag the last available spot for a two-hour workshop called Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, held this afternoon at the beautiful, community-focused Just B Yoga in Lansing. It was taught by a good friend of mine, South London native Kim Lewis.

Just B Yoga website screenshot

Although I won’t try to document the breathing and moving techniques that Kim went through — I believe these types of things are best learned and digested in context — I do want to say it was very moving when Kim started out the workshop by telling her own story. Here is her bio:

I first experienced a yoga class about 20 years ago, but I began to practice consistently in 2002 in my late 30s. I’d never been comfortable doing sport or “physical” activity, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this unfamiliar form of exercise. Since then, I’ve learned that yoga has much more to offer than simply physical movement.

Before getting more serious about yoga, I was suffering with backaches, headaches, and neck aches – probably all because of stress. I’ve also had trouble with depression and anxiety that has sometimes thrown me completely off balance. Yoga has helped me to build better physical and mental health, so I’m able to function well in my daily life – and really live life.

At 46, I’m in much better physical and emotional shape than I was at 26. The combination of yoga poses, breathing and meditative practices simply makes me feel good. I’m so fortunate that I found yoga and I want to share it with others.

I trained with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I am also certified by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, as a LifeForce Yoga Practitioner.

Kim was diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, and strongly advises anyone trying to come off medications to do so with the help of a physician — rather than trying to do so on their own. Kim told the group today that she is living proof that while yoga can’t take away all the challenges, it can change someone’s life:

It can change your brain.

Kim told us that yoga gives you the tools to take care of yourself. These tools can be summarized by three words: “Breathe, Move, Watch,” based on breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asana) and looking at how yoga philosophy views the Self.

You can use breathing and movement to:

  • Balance the body and mind
  • Calm the body/mind when anxious
  • Energize the body and mind when depressed — but on this point, Kim emphasized how mindfulness is needed because this can also aggravate anxiety or set off a manic state.

She said everyone needs to cultivate self-awareness and check in with themselves. If you feel lethargic and depressed, start slowly and warm up to a more energetic practice. If you feel jumpy and anxious, start with more active movement and then slow down to a more calming practice.

As a yoga instructor, I appreciated Kim’s pointers for those with depression or anxiety when taking group yoga classes — that you have to cultivate this same self-awareness and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

On this point, I think yoga teachers would be wise to try to learn more about depressed and anxious students. You won’t be able to tell that modifications are needed the way you would if a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy walks into your class, but even being aware of different needs might make you more intuitive about students who may quietly be suffering through major depression and need a different energy from you.

I found these points particularly interesting:

  • For someone with major depression, it may be too much to turn in internally, so don’t allow yourself to go there.
  • For someone with major depression, it might be uncomfortable to close the eyes, so just soften the gaze.

On that point, as an Ashtanga devotee, it made me all the more aware of the importance of dristi — the gaze — of the practice. Dristi is one of the three tools that the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system gives us (together, the three are referred to as the tristana). There’s not a whole lot of eye-closing in Ashtanga — you are always asked to set a soft gaze on one of nine points (tip of nose, hand, to the side, etc.). I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, to keep us present on the mat in a way that allows us to boomerang our awareness inward with true clarity, rather than in a way that allows us either to escape to another place or get sucked into a place we don’t want to go to.

I’m writing about this workshop to, generally, help share the resources that Kim shared. I also noticed that the workshop had sold out at 20 slots — but I only counted about 14 in the room, and wondered if some folks were too anxious to be in a group setting where the focus was on yoga therapy for depression and anxiety.

For anyone with depression or anxiety reading this blog post at home, know that there are people who get it, and that yoga therapy may be able to help. If reaching out seems impossible, maybe make a few clicks to buy some of these resources listed below, to help you get to a point where you can seek out a professional who can work with you on some basic yoga techniques that — while they will hardly fix everything — might be able to help.

Suggested books

Suggested CD

>>Related posts: A different kind of black Friday

==========

By the way — I know it’s been two weeks since my last blog post, and I have to tell you that it’s killing me that I’ve been too busy to blog. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, you know I fit in blogging whenever I can — so the fact that I haven’t been able to put anything up is a testament to how compressed my schedule has been. I think I literally have about 12 blog posts in my head right now — about the first Bikram class I took about what being a Radiohead concert made me think about injuries, about one excellent tool for home practice and how I lost my voice nearly completely but taught a led class anyway — and on and on. I hope to catch up on some of these. We shall see.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Keep reading, keep practicing

Books for sale at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is over, but the stream of knowledge and inspiration from this first-of-its-kind gathering doesn’t have to end for any of us.

Here’s a list of Confluence-related resources, which I’ve divided into various categories. Perhaps the most important list below is the one for workshops offered by the Confluence teachers. Nothing beats being in the same room to feel the radiance of these deeply devoted teachers.

==Blog posts specifically about the Confluence by the teachers==

Tim Miller

  • Tuesday, February 28th (a post just before the start of the gathering)
  • Tuesday, March 6th (a post just after the end of the gathering). I love that in this post, Tim Miller notes how he once asked Guruji what he thought about western students’ pronunciation of Sanskrit. Guruji said simply, “Eddie’s is correct.”

Eddie Stern

==Keeping up with the Confluence teachers’ writings==

==Blog posts and blog series by Ashtanga practitioners==

==Photos from the Confluence==

  • Michelle Haymoz, a student of Tim Miller’s, took stunning photos of the Confluence opening puja ceremony. See them here.
  • Lena Gardelli, the official photographer of the event, has started to post albums on her Facebook page. Take a look.

==Video==

==Keep learning from the Confluence teachers==

Nancy Gilgoff

Richard Freeman

Tim Miller

Eddie Stern

David Swenson

I’ll be adding to this as I come across new links. Tell me what I’ve missed by leaving a comment below. And, last but not least — happy practicing!

>>In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff

It’s hard to believe the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was only last weekend. If I didn’t have a full-time job, if I didn’t teach yoga four times a week, and if I wasn’t trying to plan a wedding, I probably would have written twice as many blog posts during and after the Confluence. :-) But I’m thankful for the time and inspiration I have had for the posts I have managed to do — a big thank you to everyone for reading, commenting and sharing, both here and on Facebook.

I have a couple more posts to go, however, before I say I’ve filed all that I want to file from the gathering.

On the last day of the Confluence, I took the guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff. I loved the balance of taking the led primary from Richard Freeman on the first day of classes and then seeing Nancy’s approach on the last day. They couldn’t have been more different in their approach to beginners.

You could tell from Richard’s class that he has a background in Iyengar and philosophy. His approach, which I really appreciated, was to set the scene, so speak. Offer up intensely vivid imagery (such as golden dragon tails and cobra hoodies). Get deep into poses. But at the very end of classes, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.” He told the room full of students that if we continue to practice, all of this stuff will find us. If we don’t, it will run away from us. Richard seems to simply want to plant the seeds of these ideas into our body and our consciousness.

Nancy began class by saying that when she first met Guruji, he had to put her into poses. He had to help her jump back, because she wasn’t strong enough. She is a big believer in introducing Ashtanga yoga to beginners by having them just do it. Breath? Bandhas? “The beginner can’t hear it anyway,” she told us. Nancy continued by saying that bringing up too much with beginners runs the risk of causing their minds to activate. “The less thinking, the better,” she said.

I loved what she had to say about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga breath:

The more I practice, the more I realize the simplicity of it. This is about the breath.

(Interestingly, in a similar vein, Richard Freeman had said in his class that you could think of Ashtanga as “pranayama for restless people.”)

Nancy knew that nearly every single person in that room already had an Ashtanga practice, so she noted historical facts about the poses as we got into them. I loved it — it was like taking a guided historical tour of how the primary series sequence has changed over time.

A few notes:

  • In bhujapidasana, she teaches head on the floor the way Tim Miller does. Chin to the floor is more advanced, she said, and you shouldn’t do it if you can’t do head to the floor.
  • In kurmasana, it used to be arms straight out to the sides. Nancy wondered whether taking the arms at more of an angle was the result of less and less room to work with.
  • When it came time for urdvha dhanurasana, Nancy said that Pattabhi Jois didn’t have them do backbends there. “Think about that,” she said. She did let students who wanted the urdvha dhanurasanas to take them.
  • Nancy also put us in the pose that Tim Miller has his students do, where you lie down right after backbends. (Tim calls it tadaka mudra.) Nancy noted that it is not savasana. “Stiff body,” she said.
  • I loved how she introduced  ut plutihi: She said to bring in all the tension you can. All of it, so that you can fully let go in savasana. For this reason, Nancy believes in going straight to savasana from ut plutihi, rather than taking a vinyasa first. But she let students take the vinyasa if they wanted to.

After the class, we had a few minutes of discussion. Someone asked Nancy about alignment. “There is no formal alignment whatsoever,” she said.

In Ashtanga, Nancy noted, it’s about energetic channels: “It’s a completely different approach.”

I loved what she said next, because the idea that there’s no alignment whatsoever seemed to be a difficult one for our group as a whole to handle:

The western mind thinks in terms of external form.

 

As with each of the Confluence teachers, Nancy’s instruction left me with so much great fodder to think about — not just now, but for years to come.

(Illustration credit: Chakras, from “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” by Swami Vishnudevananda, 1959, via Spratmackrel’s Flickr photostream and Creative Commons.)

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: What about this whole enlightenment business?

There was a Q-and-A session during the last panel of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. One question, which had been submitted to conference organizers prior to the start of the gathering, seemed like an eight-part question about enlightenment. It was such a long question that I won’t even attempt to summarize it. But it doesn’t really matter, because in the case of the videos below, the answers are more interesting than the question.

Eddie Stern on enlightenment

Just before this clip begins, Stern says that when he first found yoga, he only knew of meditation and chanting. He was searching for something called enlightenment. He didn’t find postures until he met Pattabhi Jois. This clip picks up there.

I was interested in learning what Guruji knew. I was interested in learning how he could see people so clearly….How could he see things about me that I didn’t understanding about myself? So all that became a lot more interesting to me than some idea about some state that I may or may not ever reach or be in — or maybe even exist.

Tim Miller

Enlightenment, as Eddie intimated, is kind of a lofty concept for a householder. You know, my wife is happy if I remember to empty the dishwasher. She refers to it as foreplay.

David Swenson

In his trademark fashion, David continued the rolls of laughter by starting out with, “I am enlightened. And if you would like to get enlightened, buy my DVD.”

What are the signs? Do you get a tweet?

What David says in his answer seems to apply specifically to our practice as well:

Answers are overrated. Because what happens many times — we get an answer, and we stop questioning….Questions contain the quest.

In this series:

(Photo credit: “Enlightenment!” via Shira Golding‘s Flickr photostream)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: The making of the ‘confluence’ theme

My blog post “Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Last day (first set?)” included a video interview with Jenny Barrett-Bouwer, who, along with Carol Miller and Deborah Ifill, organized the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. That blog post included Jenny’s answer to the burning question on everyone’s mind as the event ended: Will there be another Confluence next year?

Consider this post the second part of the interviews with organizers, where we get to take a step back with Deb. Deb, who is a graphic designer, was nice enough to talk about how the term “confluence” came to be the name of the gathering, and how she came up wit the popular designs of the Confluence T-shirts.

As a reminder, here is how the event’s website — which Deb also designed — says about the mission of the Confluence:

Join in an in-depth exploration of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition March 1-4, 2012 in San Diego with senior western students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: Richard Freeman, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, David Swenson and Eddie Stern.

In India, the location where two or more rivers merge is thought to be an auspicious place of spiritual power. In the same spirit these highly respected teachers will join in a confluence* of classes, lectures, stories and events designed to share the profound gift of yoga they received from their beloved teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

The confluence is open to experienced ashtanga yoga practitioners as well as yoga students who are new to the ashtanga practice. We offer a unique opportunity for students of all levels to learn from master teachers of this profound and ancient system.

 

*con·flu·ence [kon-floo-uhns] noun: A flowing together of two or more streams. An act or process of merging. A coming together of people or things.

How did the term “confluence” come to be?

How did you come up with the memorable T-shirt designs? The fan favorite seemed to be the one of Pattabhi Jois tee done in the style of the famous Obama “Hope” design.

Why did you choose an eight-petaled lotus for some of the T-shirt designs?

The Confluence took a year of planning, and you said you worked on it pretty much every day. Did your Ashtanga practice help you with the event planning process?

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Not discussed (thankfully!) at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Vanity Fair’s profile on the Ashtanga Yoga/Jois Yoga tension

Vanity Fair profiles Jois Yoga.

(Correction noted below)

As if on cue, Vanity Fair today has published an in-depth look at the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system and growing tensions with Jois Yoga. I learned about it from Claudia Yoga and The Confluence Countdown this afternoon as Scott and I were in various stages of making our way back to Michigan, and as of tonight, several of my Facebook friends have been posting the link and commenting on it.

I say “as if on cue” because this article is hitting the day following the end of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. The timing could not have been better.

The feature mentions four of the Confluence teachers: Tim Miller, Eddie Stern, Nancy Gilgoff and David Swenson. Had the article come out during the Confluence, it would no doubt have been the subject of lots of individual conversations, and very likely have been asked about during the final panel discussion, in which the five master teachers of the Confluence touched on everything from enlightenment to why in padmasana (lotus pose), the right leg folds first in the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga method.

But because this article has come out after everyone has long left for home — full of nothing short of exuberance from the gathering — I think conference attendees are in the best possible position to keep it all in perspective.

Perhaps my favorite comment so far has come from the Facebook page of The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta:

The business of yoga can certainly be tricky. All I have to offer on this article is that we spent last weekend at a conference with 5 senior Ashtanga teachers and the place was filled with only love, adoration and respect for Pattabhi Jois & family. There is certainly a very strong community of Ashtangis worldwide that care about each other and will continue to come together to celebrate. “Yoga is about caring about the person in front of you” – Eddie Stern

From Enron to Encinitas

This new article is written by Bethany McLean, whose reporting for Fortune magazine back in 2001 first raised questions about the level of profitability of Enron. Her current beat at Vanity Fair includes business and high society life — which is how she entered this story. The teaser for the article reads this like this:

Sonia Jones, lithe blonde wife of hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones, has partnered with the family of the late Ashtanga-yoga master Krishna Pattabhi Jois to launch a chain of yoga studios and boutiques. That’s got many of Jois’s devotees in a distinctly un-yogic twist.

An informal analysis of the comments and tweets I’ve seen so far tells me that ashtangis who have read the article appear to appreciate McLean’s attempt to get a feel for the Ashtanga culture and to share different sides of the story. (I agree for the most part, although I have a questions about a couple of details she mentions.) In any case, here’s a taste:

It would be easy and convenient to say that if Sonia [Jones] had never gotten involved, or if she had stopped with the Florida shala, all would have been peace, love, and joy in the Ashtanga world. But that’s just not true. Discord and questions about the worthiness of the chosen successor are what great teachers, from Martha Graham to George Balanchine, leave behind when they die. This is particularly true in the Ashtanga world. In Sanskrit culture, parampara denotes an uninterrupted succession, and it is Sharath, born in 1971, who stepped into his grandfather’s place. (Guruji’s son Manju remained in Encinitas after that first trip and became a sort of peripatetic teacher of his father’s yoga.) Under Guruji’s tutelage, Sharath became the most advanced Ashtanga practitioner in the world, said to be the only person who has made it to the sixth series. In the early 1990s he started assisting Guruji in the shala and became more and more active as Guruji aged. Sharath eventually became the director of the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute—basically the new incarnation of Jois’s Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute—in Mysore.

Read the entire article.

I love the quote from Kino MacGregor that the article ends with:

She points out that Krishnamacharya taught hundreds, maybe even thousands, of students, and there are only six who are well known today. “The students chose them,” she says. “The future of yoga is decided by the students, and whoever will bear the torch of Ashtanga yoga will be decided by the students. I don’t think we need to try to control it. We just need to sit with the uncertainty of it.”

What Confluence students kept saying throughout the weekend was how having these five teachers all in one place, joined by more than 350 practitioners from around the world, truly demonstrated how strong the lineage of this practice is. It was all one big inspiring reminder about the strength of the Ashtanga yoga tradition.

And if any of us have any doubts, I think we all know what we need to do — step on our mat and take that first inhale. The practice, as the Confluence teachers reminded us, is the true teacher. The tradition is strong because we are all doing our part to honor the best of it.

Ownership

Only because the title of this Vanity Fair piece is “Whose Yoga Is It Anyway,” I will talk about one thing that was said by Eddie Stern at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, during the panel discussion on the eight limbs of this practice. Please keep in mind that he made a point to say he was not speaking in a veiled way about any particular type of yoga — he just wanted to make this point, since the topic at hand was asteya, most commonly referred to as “non-stealing.”

Eddie brought up how Pattabhi Jois, whenever asked about the Ashtanga vinyasa method, would say, “I didn’t change a thing.” Eddie explained that Guruji was basically saying he learned from his guru — that he was, in essence, standing on the shoulders of giants. For him to take ownership would have gone against the tradition.

“We are standing on a great, great tradition,” Eddie said. “To not acknowledge that tradition  . . . is a type of stealing.”

The tradition is so much bigger than any of us — and what a gift that is.

>>Correction appended. In the comments below, Jenny points out that the article in the printed magazine hit news stands on Saturday — smack in the middle of the Confluence. So I should amend this whole post to say — well, just as well, then, that no one in my circles was talking about it, leaving me to learn about it as I was boarding my flight home on Monday. I have read with keen interest — on Facebook, Google+, Twitter and blogs — everyone’s comments on the piece, and I’m interested in seeing more and more reaction. But I am happy that, for me, the Confluence was kept pure with the energy of the five teachers and the hundreds of participants who had gathered. We have plenty of time to nosh on what was written in this Vanity Fair piece.      

In this series:

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[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Eddie Stern suggests a high-stakes Vedic debate with ‘The Science of Yoga’ author William Broad

Screenshot of Eddie Stern's blog post (also published in the Huffington Post) responding to William Broad's "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" article in the New York Times magazine.

The final panel discussion of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence included a Q-and-A portion. Organizers had sent out an email to all registrants a while back asking if anyone had questions for the teachers.

One of the questions chosen was directed to Tim Miller and wanted to hear his take on William Broad’s book The Science of Yoga. Tim leaned into the microphone and said that Eddie Stern, who had written an excellent article in response to that very question, was the ideal panelist to answer that question.

You can listen to Eddie’s well-rounded answer here, and to the hilarious way he ended his comment — by basically challenging New York Times writer William Broad to a Vedic debate, which is a pretty high-stakes way of determining a winner in an argument.

P.S.  Should I have titled this post “How a Vedic debate can wreck a bad argument”?

In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Last day (first set?)

The first-ever Ashtanga Yoga Confluence ended a little after 5 this evening. I have so much to share from everything that happened today, and will try to blog as much as I can during the 4 1/2-hour plane ride back to Michigan tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that you’ll eventually be reading about:

  • Eddie Stern’s hilarious and awesome Vedic-tradition-based challenge to William Broad, author of the controversial book, The Science of Yoga.
  • What the Confluence teachers had to say about enlightenment.
  • A more-or-less pose-by-pose history of the primary series, according to Nancy Gilgoff (you might be surprised by what’s been added over the years and what’s been taken out).
  • What we in the west need to be cautious of when we stand on the shoulders of yoga giants.

In the meantime, you should read on to learn more about whether there will be a Confluence 2013, and you should also head over the Confluence Countdown blog to see Steve and Bobbie’s musings, reports and photos so far from the event.

In honor of the completion of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, I want to focus this post on the organizers who made this all happen. Two of Tim Miller’s students, Jenny Barrett-Bouwer and Deborah Ifill, came to Tim and his wife, Carol, about a year ago with the idea for an Ashtanga Yoga conference. The rest is now history. The three women — who all already had their hands full with their current responsibilities — suddenly found themselves with a new event-planning gig in addition to everything else. Tim’s job was to reach out to the teachers who ultimately became the Confluence crew.

Carol, Deborah and Jenny received a much-deserved standing ovation this afternoon during the last panel session — not just for making this happen at all, but for making it such a resounding success. To a person, everyone I talked to at the event thought it so incredibly well planned out and superbly executed.

20120304-103301.jpg

Carol Miller, one of the three visionary and tireless organizers of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Students of Tim Miller know that Carol is the force behind making annual retreats such as the Mt. Shasta hiking/yoga getaways a reality.

Deborah and Carol were kind enough to speak with me today about the event, even though they were swamped with getting everything wrapped up. They noted that the Confluence teachers wanted to keep it small and intimate. That’s why the event was capped at under 400 and why only the morning class and afternoon workshop on each day were split into two groups, with everything else done as a large group.

All told, there were 386 registrants hailing from across the United States and from countries as far away as Italy. An even bigger group — 500 people — were on the waiting list. There was so much enthusiasm for the event that, once it was announced last year, it only took 45 days for all the spots to fill.

Jenny was also kind enough to talk to me today. Here’s my quick video interview with her:

How did the Confluence come about? (Word of warning: I think Jenny is making it sound a lot simpler than it really was!)

Confluence attendees seemed to all feel that the event really spoke to how strong the Ashtanga tradition is today. Can you talk a little about that?

 

What has the feedback been for the Confluence?



Will there be another Confluence next year?

On this point, I have to note that at the end of the last discussion panel, Eddie, who owns Ashtanga Yoga New York, said, “How about next year in New York?”

Last one. First set!

A quick note about the title of this blog post. As students of Tim Miller know all too well, Timji (as he is affectionately called), doesn’t seem to believe in doing just three urdvha dhanurasanas in a led primary series class. Sometimes, he will have us do eight — one for each of eight of the seemingly never-ending names of the famous monkey king Hanuman.

On other days, he will have us do a couple sets of three. In those cases, he will call out the last backbend of the first set of three by saying, “Up you go. Last one.” And his students will call out on cue and in unison, “First set!”

Let’s hope today was the last day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence’s first of many, many sets.

In this series:

 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together

20120303-113326.jpg

For me, the second full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was about backbending and getting back together.

Mysore West?

First, getting back together. As lots of people have noted, having 350 Ashtanga yoga practitioners all in one place to learn from five master teachers is a recipe for a reunion. Even though Ashtanga’s popularity around the world seems to have increased exponentially since the early 1970s, it’s still a pretty small, tight-knit community — even if you’ve never studied in Mysore, India.

Just before the start of the conference, Tim Miller wrote this blog post:

The tribe has already started to gather—my regular classes are starting to swell a bit with the new arrivals from various parts of the country. Most of these folks I have met at some point, either through their attendance at a workshop I taught in their area or their participation in a teacher-training course or retreat. It feels a bit like a family reunion—nieces and nephews and cousins all coming together for a big celebration. My fellow teachers at the Confluence are like brothers and sisters that I rarely get a chance to spend time with. The last time we all got together was for Guruji’s memorial in 2009. The Confluence will be a different kind of Guruji memorial—a joyful celebration of Pattabhi Jois’ life and legacy.

The tribe gathering — it’s so true.

It was wonderful to have the chance to spend quality time this afternoon with the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor crew. In the evening, the dinner break gave me a chance to hang out with the totally fun group of ashtangis I met at the Mt. Shasta hiking and yoga retreat this past August. Tomorrow, I get to catch up with Dana Blonde and Brent Mulligan, the awesome couple who own The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta. I met Dana in 2009, when I traveled to Vancouver to do a weeklong training with David Swenson. I met Dana’s husband in 2010, when I traveled to Southern California to study with Tim Miller.

Yeah, it’s definitely a small world.

There’s also a lot of supportive energy in the air, and I think that’s thanks not only to the Confluence attendees, but also the tone set by the five brilliant but incredibly down-to-earth teachers themselves. Yesterday during Tim’s pranayama workshop, Eddie Stern and Richard Freeman streamed in with all the other students who were attending, and listened as intently as anyone. In today’s backbending workshop, David Swenson slid in and found an open space that happened to be just in front of me. I’m guessing he didn’t bring a mat in so as to not take up a full space (this workshop had been over-registered), but right there on the hotel carpet, he got into sphinx pose, shalabasana (locust), and all of the research poses that Richard put the room in. He looked like he was having a blast.

The level of camaraderie seemed to reach a fever pitch when the afternoon discussion between Tim and Eddie — focused on Hanuman and Ganesha — closed with everyone singing the Hanuman Chalisa. Tim played his harmonium, accompanied by some of his students on a range of other instruments. Jason (@leapinglanka) tweeted this afterward:

Eddie S. & Tim M. shredded Hanuman/Ganesh tonite. Dffrnt generations, East/West coast, didn’t matter: ashtanga tradition is very much alive

‘Yoga is relationship’

Ah, to the backbending.

I was lucky enough to receive my dropbacks during Mysore this morning from Ricard Freeman.

Oh. My. God.

I am blessed to have had, over the past couple of years, expert Ashtanga teachers who have taught me a tremendous amount about stability, security and strength during dropbacks. I am able to surrender fully in dropbacks because I trust fully.

But I’ve never experienced a dropback quite like the ones given by Richard. It’s nearly impossible to describe. Suffice it here, for now, to say that it didn’t feel like Richard was using his muscles or any part of his body, really, to support me in the dropbacks. It instead felt like he was directing an invisible net of soft energy that allowed my spine to cascade like a waterfall up and over, and then return again (almost like a video being played in reverse), with a moment of pure suspension in that moment just before I returned to standing.

Those dropbacks were the perfect trailer for the backbending worskhop held a couple of hours later.

There’s no way I could possible recreate — or even distill, really — the backbending workshop. That’s one of the beauties of being present at a gathering like this. You come to learn, and to share what you learn. But so much of what you learn you can’t adequately share in a straight-forward way (like blogging about it). So much of what you learn you will end up sharing because it will become part of how you see this practice, and that will infuse into the way you practice, the way you interact with your world, and, if you are a teacher, subtle things about the way you teach and adjust students.

If you have the chance to learn about backbending from Richard, who found Iyengar yoga before he found Ashtanga yoga, I highly recommend it. Richard builds it step by step so beautifully — much like the way Tim builds his two-hour bandha workshop, which he sometimes offers when he travels to conduct his weekend workshops.

I will say that Richard opened the backbending workshop by talking about the two dominant patterns — one based on prana, and one based on the opposite, apana, and what we need is to balance the two.

Yoga is relationship. . . . You are a go-between for these patterns — prana and apana. Or, Shiva/Shakti, if you want to be fancy. When they intertwine, you disappear.

A reunion.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: How inhaling and exhaling can wring us out

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It’s past 11:30 p.m. of the end of the first full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence as I start to write this, and Scott and I just got back from an unplanned trip to Los Angeles, where we had dinner with my parents. This sojourn north along Interstate 5 was unplanned because I had forgotten to tell my parents that I was going to be in San Diego for the Confluence. I am embarrassingly bad about telling family and friends I’m going to be in places relatively near them when I travel, mostly my life moves at such a ridiculous pace. I will decide to register for an event like this, book whatever I need to book, note the dates in the calendars I need to note them in, and then not think about logistics again until I am driving toward the airport and pulling out the printout of my flight confirmation to see what airline I’m taking. By the time I get the chance to think about all the people I should have told I’m coming, I’m usually on the plane, just a couple hours before landing in that destination.

So my parents, being the incredibly thoughtful people that they are, called me yesterday, after hearing that I was here, to see if I wanted to meet them in L.A. so that we could look for a traditional Thai outfit in Thai Town to wear to the Thai Buddhist template in Michigan we’re visiting as part of my wedding weekend in May.

My mom and dad drove seven hours from northern California to make this happen. It was really, really sweet to see them.

And it’s wonderful to be back in California. I spent 10 years of my life in this state, and on some level, it will always be home, even though I have now lived in Michigan for six years and am in the process of (hopefully) buying my first house. Every time I come to the Golden State — which is usually two or three times a year — I always feel a little homesick when I leave.

While I’m feeling very full (both physically from the dinner we had in Thai Town and emotionally from seeing my folks), I’m also pretty drained. But before I call it a day (which, much like last night, I am doing several hours later than I should be), I want to share one tidbit from my afternoon session today. I sat in Tim Miller’s pranayama workshop after taking Richard Freeman’s led intro class in the morning. (I did a short blog post, Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’ on that class.)

This “Working In” workshop — which I’ve taken a couple of times before at various studios who host Tim, and which I obviously wanted to take again — felt a bit like a continuation of the morning’s theme. All I want to share for this post is the sponge analogy and Tim’s thoughts about being underfed and overstuffed.

Think about that caked over, dried-up sponge you surely have under your kitchen sink. So an inhalation during pranayama — the fourth yogic limb — can be thought of as water hitting that sponge. It soaks up the water and expands. What happens after that? We exhale. We squeeze everything out.

As we have all noted while squeezing out an old sponge, the water is not exactly clear. There’s stuff in there that needs to be cleansed out. As we continue to soak up and squeeze, the water does get cleaner.

Ultimately, the simple act of conscious breathing is designed to help us refine our discernment — to help us learn to feed the sense organs more consciously. Tim noted that in the west, many of us feel underfed and overstuffed. We’re numbed out from the less-than-ideal choices we make. Pranayama can help break that cycle.

If you’ve never tried any pranayama exercises and can’t picture what a breath-based cleansing feels like in the physical body, much less the subtle body, I highly suggest you find a way to take a class with Tim Miller or Richard Freeman, stat.

Or perhaps start saving up for the second annual Confluence?

By the way, while I was taking Tim’s pranayama workshop, The Confluence Countdown was in David Swenson’s class on floating and handstanding. Head over to their blog to read more about that session, and about the panel discussion I missed because I was coursing along SoCal’s asphalt rivers on my way to Thai Town.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’

Just a quick blog post as coffee brews. I came to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence for two reasons: Ricard Freeman and Eddie Stern. Of course, I came because it is a confluence not just of five out-of-this-world teachers plus hundreds of others great ashtangis, but if I had to distill exactly whose energies and knowledge I wanted to chance to experience, it boiled down to these two guys, who have long intrigued me.

I got the chance to see Eddie in action last night as he led the Ganesh puja. He was as inspiringly spiritual as I had envisioned he might be. One minute, he was on the platform, as everyone was still streaming in and sitting down, taking a quick look at his smartphone. The next, he was telling jokes about interpreting religion. The next, he was chanting 108 names of Ganesha. And finally, he was leading us to the beach, to the water, to end the purification ceremony. What a cool guy.

This morning as 7 a.m., everyone streamed into one of two rooms for the first class of the Confluence: the Mysore class or the led introduction with Richard. Richard was as poetic, heady and knowledgeable as I had envisioned he might be. And he was funny. Lots of Ashtanga in-jokes, which never ceases to entertain me. (Like, acknowledging that chatauri in surya namaskara B feels like a relief — like a Friday night.) What a cool guy.

His breakdown of the breath and movements in the surya namaskaras was probably the single most comprehensive and elegant approach to these sequences that I have ever seen.

Before I head out again, I want to leave you with just two thoughts — how he began and ended class. At the beginning of class, Richard said that you can think about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system as “pranayama for restless people.”

Love it.

At the end of the two-hour class, after he took us out of savasana, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.”

If you continue to practice, it will find you. If you don’t, it will run away from you.

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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 Ashtanga Yoga Confluence kickoff, plus my class schedule for the weekend

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The highly anticipated first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence kicked off this evening on San Diego’s Mission Bay with a Ganesha puja led by Eddie Stern. Read more about it at The Confluence Countdown. It’s been a total blast to run into so many people I’ve met over the past few years in my Ashtanga travels — friends from Calgary to Columbus, from Salt Lake City to Santa Barbara. And to get to be in the presence of five radiant senior western teachers, only two of whom I’ve met? Wow. I walked over to the registration table this afternoon feeling a little giddy — sort of the way I feel just before a Radiohead concert is about to start. (As a side note, incredibly, I am seeing Radiohead next weekend. It’s a big one-two punch of some serious external/physical stimulation and internal/psychological stimulation.)

Here’s the way the Confluence works: The puja, designed to give the gathering an auspicious start, was attended by everyone. Friday, Saturday and Saturday, there are two asana tracks in the morning — a track of led introductory classes and a track for Mysore classes. Friday and Saturday afternoons, there are two workshops to choose from. Each day, everyone comes back together in the late afternoon for panel discussions. Saturday night, there’s a two-hour MC Yogi concert.

Classes

Here’s my class schedule, along with what I’m missing out on:

Friday

Taking: 7 – 9 a.m. – Guided Intro Class taught by Richard Freeman

Missing: 7 – 10 a.m. – Mysore taught by Tim Miller, David Swenson, Nancy Gilgoff and Eddie Stern with certified and authorized teacher assistance

~~

Taking: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – “Working In”– The Art of Breathing taught by Tim (pranayama). Pranayama, literally “the extension of the life force,” is an important practice that cultivates clarity of mind, longevity and pratyahara (the inward turning of attention). Tim will introduce pranayama techniques to explore aspects of the pranamaya kosha (subtle body) such as the chakras and the pancha vayus (the five pranas) and to serve as the vital link between external methodology and internal experience.

Missing: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Flying, Floating and Handstanding taught by David (asana with partner). Flying, Floating and Handstanding: In this fun-filled exploration of vinyasa and arm balances, we’ll break down the vinyasa into its components and explore handstands and arm balances through the avenue of partner work. All levels can attend – even if you’ve never done a handstand.

Saturday

Missing: 7 a.m. – 9 a.m. – Guided Intro Class taught by Tim (asana)

Taking: 7 a.m.- 8:30 a.m. – Mysore taught by Richard, David, Nancy and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

~~~

Missing: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Intro to the Second Series taught by Nancy and assisted by Tim Miller (asana). An introduction to Nadi Shodana (purification of the little rivers), the intermediate series of Asthanga Yoga.

Taking: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Backbending on the Current of Breath taught by Richard (asana). An energetic exploration of integrated whole-body patterns found in backbending. We’ll work with the internal alignment mirrored in the pelvic floor as it moves around the central axis of the body. Using these patterns, combined with integrated muscular patterns within the hamstrings, abdominal wall, shoulders and arms, we’ll construct a series of deep backbends that are grounded, open and free of pain.

Sunday

Taking: 7 – 9 a.m. – Guided Intro to Ashtanga taught by Nancy followed by Loving Kindness Meditation (asana)

Missing: 7 – 10 a.m. – Mysore taught by Tim, David, Richard and Eddie with certified and authorized teacher assistance (asana)

The beginner’s mind (as experienced in conjunction with the body)

The traditional way to teach Ashtanga is through individual work in the Mysore tradition. But because I didn’t learn Ashtanga that way, and because I teach led, all-level classes, I always deeply value the chance to be in a beginner’s class.

I am acutely aware of how imperfect guided classes can be. (For more on this rich subject, see the AY:A2 blog’s “Poverty of Verbal Instruction” post.) But it’s a reality — and I think there’s a lot that can be gained from an instructor’s words. It’s all about who that instructor is and how they choose which words to use, when. How do you introduce someone to this highly complicated, but also gorgeously simple, practice? How do you help people who may be coming in with minimal levels of body awareness start to connect to themselves through verbal instruction, adjustments and a harder to define sharing of energy? How do you send out your own enthusiasm for this practice in a balanced way? I’ve learned so much by taking, for instance, classes for beginners from Tim Miller and Angela Jamison.

I’ve been in Tim Miller’s pranayama workshops before, but I’m looking forward to this workshop. Hard to get tired of pranayama — and there’s so much to learn. I’m excited to see how Richard Freeman approach to backbends.

Discussions

Here are the panels being held Friday through Sunday:

Panel Discussion with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). Q&A discussion, stories about Guruji, etc.

The Symbolic Meaning of the Hindu Deities: Ganesh & Hanuman taught by Eddie and Tim for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.44 states “Swadyaya Ishta Devata Samprayogaha – Union with the chosen deity comes from the study of self through the sacred texts”. Eddie and Tim will shed light on their chosen deities Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and Hanuman, the dispeller of afflictions.

The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). The first five limbs of Ashtanga Yoga are known as the external limbs. Pattabhi Jois said, “The first five limbs of yoga are very difficult-the last three are easy!” Each teacher will illuminate a yama and a niyama, as well as discuss the lager context of the first five limbs, or even all eight if time permits.

Ashtanga Yoga and Daily Life with Tim, David, Richard, Nancy and Eddie for the entire group to attend together (lecture/discussion). All of the teachers will reflect on what it means to be a yogi in the modern world, as a westerner and a householder and how one’s practice changes over time in relation to the aging process. Questions submitted in advance will be answered.

I’m missing the first panel discussion because I’m driving up to L.A. Friday after the pranayama workshop to have dinner with my parents, who are taking the long drive from northern California to see me and my fiance, Scott.

Scott’s encouragement is one of the reasons that I’ve done so many Ashtanga trainings the last few years — he’s so great about telling me I should register to train first, and figure out how to get the time off/pay for it later. And he’s right — it has somehow worked out each time. But he’s never traveled to do any yoga with me. In fact, he’s only take one yoga class ever, and that was a vinyasa class. This happened because we decided at some point that it would be fun to trade classes — I would take one of his Okinawan karate classes, and he would take a yoga class. It was indeed fun, but I think we both came away pretty happy with the path of discipline that we had chosen. (I came away from his karate class thinking that I didn’t really feel the need to try to aim at someone’s sternum during a kick — plus I’m super short, and this was work! :-) I also didn’t like the exercise where you try to touch your partner’s head while trying to prevent your partner from touching your head. I didn’t understand why anyone was trying to touch anyone else’s head.)

Yet, who is acting like the smarter yogi? Scott went to bed a while ago, and here I am, blogging instead of sleeping. I better call it a night.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

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T-minus 60 minutes until the start of the debut Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — now, how do we stay digitally connected?

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence starts in less than hour, with a Ganesh puja led by Eddie Stern. I just created an Ashtanga Yoga Confluence check-in on Facebook and Foursquare, and I’m trying to figure out how people feel about a straightforward #AshtangaConfluence for a Twitter hashtags (long but descriptive).

I know there are more than 500 people on the waiting list — and can only imagine how many more who will be interested in the knowledge and observations that flow from this first gathering of its kind — so hopefully we’ll all find a way to stay digitally connected here at the AYC. If nothing else, I know the dynamic duo over at the Confluence Countdown blog will keep us informed on the latest.

Ready . . . set . . . ekam!

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Tomorrow’s a moon day, so I can stay up late to write this blog post (woo-hoo!)

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I’m pretty excited that tomorrow’s a moon day, because it means two things:

  • I can turn off the earliest alarm setting on my iPhone.
  • I can stay up late to write this blog post.

This is how it used to be — I’d start writing a post a little after 11 p.m., as the Daily Show and the Colbert Report aired. Depending on how many interruptions I had, I might finish around midnight or sometimes as late as 1 or 2 a.m.

Then, this past August, I committed to a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice. Since I’m
solidly six months in, I thought I’d provide an update. Let me emphasize that no one is more surprised by what I’m about to report than I am. I’m sharing this in order to encourage you to try the traditional Ashtanga practice schedule if you’ve ever had the inclination — because it’s pretty powerful stuff. And along the lines of an “If I can do it, anyone can” argument, I have to note that I’ve kept up this schedule despite:

  • Not being a morning person
  • The cold and dark of Michigan’s winter
  • A pretty intense work schedule . . .
  •  . . . combined with teaching, currently, four yoga classes a week . . .
  • . . . while also trying to keep up this blog . . .
  • . . . and creating a wedding website and starting a wedding blog.
  • Oh, yes, the wedding. I’ve kept this up despite planning a wedding. (Don’t even get me started on that. I’m not wedding-planner material — far from it. Suffice it to say that there’s not a single thing about trying to pull a wedding together that comes naturally to me.)
  • Looking for a house to buy.

Insert your own reasons for not having the time.

Let’s take a look at the things I said I missed most when I traded in a studio-based practice for a home-based practice. Here’s what I identified in my Nov. 14, 2011 post:

As I type this post from a hotel room bed, I’m thinking about when I’ll get my practice in each day of this hectic week. And as I think about that, I find myself daydreaming about my ideal practicing conditions:

  • Room temperature around 84 or 85 degrees
  • A time slot of two hours to practice
  • Start time around 1 p.m.
  • A clean, bright studio with large windows — a skylight, even.
  • Hardwood floors

Laughable, right? I have these conditions on precisely zero days a week — and when I’m traveling for work, as I am now, or working particularly long days, or on vacation, it gets even trickier. Who lives in their ideal world, anyway?

So . . . here’s the deal now.

I’m not attached to having a heated space for practice.

While I still prefer to practice in a room heated to at least 75 degrees (and I still love a room that’s around 85 degrees), I don’t long for it. Sometimes I practice in the multipurpose room of the air-conditioned athletic club where I teach twice a week. And the thing is — I don’t mind (?!). I keep a light, long-sleeved top over my yoga tank and I rev up that ujjayi breath. I feel warm enough. I sometimes even sweat, but sweat is no longer a barometer for how cathartic a practice is.

It doesn’t really matter how much room I have. 

It used to really bother me if I practiced in a cleared-off space surrounded by clutter. My apartment is so small that practicing among stuff is inevitable. I don’t mind anymore, however. As long as I have enough room for my mat, it’ll work.

I get up early to practice. Period.

This is perhaps the single most shocking development. When the alarm goes off, I still sometimes hit the snooze button. But I inevitably get up to roll out my mat. I don’t make calculations about whether I could squeeze in a practice that evening, which would give me cover to go back to bed. I get up, and I practice. That’s it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t days when my work day starts so early I have to move with my practice time — but those days are the exception rather than the rule.

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I was worried, as winter set in, that the chill would deter me. I somehow made it through. On that point, many thanks to Angela Jamison for all her encouragement and advice — and for holding me accountable (even while thousands of miles away in Mysore!) to staying with this.

Here are some specifics that helped me.

Hot showers

On really cold days, or on days when I really felt I couldn’t wake up, I took the advice mentioned in the AY: A2 blog to take a hot shower before practice. Worked like a charm whenever I felt I had to resort to it.

Remote heater starter (not really)

On days when I was so tired I didn’t know what I would do, I did hit the snooze button and let myself sleep in a little bit. But before I did that, I got up long enough to plug in the space heater in the living room. So I snoozed while the room heated up, which gave me motivation to get up. I’m not going to lie — if they had the space heater equivalent of a remote car starter, I’d be tempted to buy one.

Avoiding dehydration

In addition to the fact that I don’t like mornings, a big deterrent to practicing immediately after waking up has been that I always wake up feeling parched. So I made a point to drink more water throughout the day. I also started to drink a glass of coconut water right before I went to bed, and a glass of coconut water as soon as I got up. It really helped me avoid that awful feeling of trying to start a practice feeling completely dehydrated.

Sleeping earlier 

This was hard for me. I’ve been a night owl since my elementary school days. Sleeping early runs counter to all my instincts. Initially it was a matter of forcing myself, but eventually, I realized logic sometimes does prevail — you really do get tired earlier if you get up earlier to practice. So I’ve been sleeping earlier — so early that sometimes, I even miss the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Letting go of the concept of practicing yoga to x, y or z

Many of us go to yoga when we are down and need a boost. Or we go to yoga when we’re stressed. Or we go to yoga to try to lose weight. Or to become more flexible. Or to get through an emotionally-trying time. With this practice, it felt at first like I was practicing despite x, y or z — despite having a cold. Despite facing a 12-hour day. Despite really, really — really! — not feeling like practicing. Eventually, when practice is not optional it makes sense that this practice is a matter of hygiene — you wouldn’t go a week without brushing your teeth or showering. Why would you go a week without practicing? Our internal organs and our scattered minds benefit immensely from the daily chance to be wrung out, aired out and refreshed.

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The changes I’ve felt have been subtle but powerful. Some are deeply personal. In general, I can say I feel more connected to my internal machinations (which probably led to my sudden inability to tolerate chicken). It may sound odd, but I feel as if I have a more refined sense of smell. I feel more focused throughout the day.

This is only six months in, so we’ll see where this six-day-a-week practice continues to take me.

In any case . . . while tomorrow’s a moon day, it’s still a work day. So I’m signing off for now.

P.S. — It’s way after midnight, which is when I had hoped to be in bed. So moon day is now technically today — still, woo-hoo!. :-)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

Is Ashtanga’s third series the new second series?

I feel as if I’ve been seeing more references to third series lately. Specifically:

  • Earlier today, Kino MacGregor started promoting her new third series DVD through tweets and a guest blog post.
  • It was recently announced that Tim Miller is changing up the focus of his three-day intensive during his annual April visit to Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio. The first day of the April 2012 intensive will focus on primary series (Yoga Chikitsa), the second on second series (Nadi Shodhana), and the third on third series (Sthira Bhaga).
  • Hilltop Yoga here in Lansing, Mich., has just put on its schedule a new Sunday class “where students practice primary, second or third series Ashtanga at their own pace.”

I’ve seen Sthira Bhaga translated as “divine stability,” “divine steadinessandstrength and grace.” (I’m partial to the “divine stability” translation myself.) And I have practiced next to third series practitioners. It is awe-inspiring — perhaps less because of the poses themselves (oh, those leg-behind-the-head variations!) but, as the Sanskrit name of the series indicates, the fact that someone could flow with such a sense of calm through such seemingly daunting poses.

Before I link to photos of the series, I want to put this in context for students new to Ashtanga or for those who don’t practice yoga (long-time Ashtanga practitioners know this through experience already) — looking at the photos alone is taking the practice totally out of context. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a compassionate practice for the body — traditionally, you only begin to practice a pose after you have an established practice in the one before it. So it’s not for gymnasts and contortionists. When you see photos of someone in a crazy-looking pose, what you’re looking at is the current incarnation of years of commitment to the practice.

With that lead-in, here are some photos of third series.

After dinner one night during his Mt. Shasta second series retreat last year, Tim Miller was talking to a few students and the question of third series came up. I remember hearing Tim describe the series this way — in terms of the gunas. (If you’re not familiar with the concept of gunas, the simplest definition of gunas I’ve seen comes from T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga: “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe.”) Primary series is like tamas (heaviness, inertia), second like rajas (activity, change), and third like sattva (clarity, lightness). I’m looking forward to hearing more in April in Columbus.

Here is what MacGregor says about her DVD:

I created my new DVD of the Third Series of Ashtanga Yoga in response to the increasing number of Advanced students practicing Ashtanga Yoga today. I also wanted to share what is for me my most personal journey, my most intimate struggle and now my most consistent daily practice.

She’s not the first to offer an instructional DVD on third series. David Swenson, to the best of my knowledge, was the first to do so, back when we all stilled watched VHS tapes. You can now get Swenson instructional program on a DVD.

It seems to me that Ashtanga students used to talk about second series the way they’re talking about third series now — something a little intimidating, a little exhilarating, and a little out of reach. With more and more students practicing second series these days, it makes sense that third is next. MacGregor writes:

The practice of the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series is not something to be taken lightly or to play around with.

It is a devotional practice that burns through some of the deepest blockages that exist in the human mind and body. It is a practice that contains the essence of Ashtanga Yoga and one not to be taken for granted.

This is what she believes is the first prerequisite for third series:

First you must have a committed six day a week practice of the full Intermediate Series and have been practicing for around five years. That practice should be done smoothly and effortlessly so that when you finish you have more energy to give. The key gateway postures of Second Series should ideally be well-established.

Here’s my question, though. Will Ashtanga practitioners start jumping the gun now that a popular teacher has released a DVD? I’m pretty sure the cybershala can’t provide the wisdom, guidance, feedback and inspiration needed to fully appreciate, understand and experience the third series (or primary or second, for that matter).

I wrote about my qualms when students leapfrog over primary and head straight to second a while back, and I wonder if something similar could start happening with third series. There’s a big difference between doing the Ashtanga sequence and adhering to the Ashtanga method.  

(Photo credit: New <3 necklace via Bekathwia’s Flickr’s photostream.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

Do you have ‘rockstar syndrome’ when it comes to yoga? Don’t we all, to some degree?

“We all need to learn to be more transparent and, as students, less caught up in rockstar syndrome.” — Waylon Lewis

I just read an intense interview with John Friend conducted by Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal. Friend, who has become an international phenomenon and was the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story last year, established the Anusara yoga method. If you’re unfamiliar with Anusara, here is Wikipedia’s description, for what it’s worth:

Anusara yoga is a modern school of hatha yoga started by American-born yoga teacher John Friend in 1997. Friend derived his style from the Iyengar style of yoga and reintroduced elements of Hindu spirituality (specifically derived from Siddha Yoga) into a more health-oriented Western approach to Yoga.

The emphasis of Anusara is on a set of Universal Principles of Alignment which underlie all the physical asanas and are connected to philosophical aspects of the practice. According to the official Anusara Yoga website, the school’s ideology is “grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness”.[1] Friend states that the term “Anusara (a-nu-sar-a), means ‘flowing with Grace,’ ‘flowing with Nature’ and ‘following your heart,'” as interpreted from the Sanskrit anusāra, meaning “custom, usage, natural state or condition”.

I’ve never been in the same room as Friend. I don’t practice Anusara yoga. I don’t think I’ve ever even been in a straight-up Anusara class. I don’t have strong feelings about the style of yoga or the man behind it.

And I don’t want to get into the details of the serious allegations here because I almost don’t want to know them myself. But it’s all over the Internet, if you look in the right places. At this point, it seems even Friend understands that the only way he will get his side of the story out is through online mediums. Here’s the interview, which, as I said, is intense. Lewis starts to conclude the interview with the line quoted at the top of the post — that, as students, we all need to be “less caught up in rockstar syndrome.”

That’s why I’m writing this post. If nothing else, this sad scandal — and it is nothing short of a scandal, no matter how you look at it — is a good opportunity to ask ourselves (whether we practice Anusara, Iynengar, Ashtanga or any other type of yoga) whether we are prone to getting caught up in the rockstar syndrome with our yoga teachers. I think we’re all prone. And it makes sense — the best teachers can literally change how we see the world and ourselves. They can literally change the course of our lives. That is powerful. I will always be deeply in awe of my teachers, and the darkness that they dispelled for me. But that doesn’t make them infallible.

So what do we do to keep ourselves in check?

What has been resonating in my mind since reading this interview is that often-quoted line among ashtangis: “The practice itself is the true teacher.”

I want to say the best teachers — the ones who see their role as getting students closer to the practice rather than the ones who are perhaps motivated by personal fame or gain — actually build a check into their teaching. They tell you their take, and they tell you to try it out and see for yourself. Investigate it yourself. They’ve spent years — decades perhaps — learning and researching and integrating everything they know, but they are humble enough to still believe that the practice is the true teacher.

No one is infallible. People change. Circumstances change. Even the practice changes — develops over time — but in the end, the practice is always there.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

 

Do I resemble that ‘yellow girl’?

I feel weird straight-up scanning my birth certificate, so you get the relevant snippet.

People tend to not believe me — understandably — when I explain that my birth certificate lists the color of my father’s race as “yellow” and the color of my mother’s race as “yellow.” The above scan shows you the relevant section. It’s only been three and a half decades or so — hard to believe, on some levels. We’ve come a long way . . .

. . . but then again, states’ anti-miscegenation laws weren’t declared unconstitutional in this country until 1967. I’m getting married this year to a white American. There would have been a time in certain states — as late as the 1960s — when this would not have been legal.

And how far have we come, really, when, as I discussed in my last blog post, someone running for the U.S. Senate can release a completely racist ad in targeted Michigan markets on Super Bowl Sunday.

When I first moved to East Lansing, Michigan from New England — after growing up in California — I was stunned when one of my first drives around town took me past a grocery store called Oriental Market. Was this really 2005, I wondered. (Turns out, the store was  owned, as far as I could tell, by people of Asian descent. Sigh. I chalked it up to the Midwest moving far, far slower than some parts of the country when it comes to such issues.) And then I drove past a Beaner’s coffee shop (remember, I’m from California) and thought, “What have I done? Where have I moved to?” (Happily, Beaner’s later changed its name to Biggby.)

I’ve felt much better in recent years in this state. There’s a lot to love. But then comes this ridiculous Hoekstra ad and I am wondering whether Fred Davis, the California-based strategist who executed the 30-second commercial for him, banked on Michigan’s small Asian-American population and maybe even banked on the state as a whole not caring enough to protest.

If so, they miscalculated. Sure, the reaction is nothing like what it would have been in California had this same ad run (though I doubt any serious politician in California would be so foolish to do so). Yet while Hoekstra and his supporters predictably defended his ad, criticism came from others within the Republican party. And criticism came not just from Asian-Americans, but from others as well. Here’s a large chunk of yesterday’s AP story by Kathy Barks Hoffman, who has been doing a great job of covering this story:

LANSING, Mich. — Criticism of a Senate campaign ad featuring a young Asian woman talking in broken English about China taking away American jobs grew Monday as some warned it could revive discrimination against Asian-Americans.

Michigan has seen its share of Asia bashing, especially in the 1980s, when images of sledgehammers smashing imported cars were common. Chinese-American Vincent Chin died after being beaten to death in 1982 by two unemployed autoworkers angry about competition from Japan.

Republican Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra began taking heat after his ad targeting Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow ran statewide Sunday before the Super Bowl.

“Mr. Hoekstra may believe that his ad is just a way to express his political goals. But it does so in a manner that points the finger at Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders for our nation’s problems,” said Thomas Costello, president and CEO of the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, a 70-year-old civil rights organization in Detroit. “All of us need to be vigilant in the words we use and images we portray to avoid giving tacit permission for racist behavior.”

The ad was created by media strategist Fred Davis of California-based Strategic Perception Inc., known for both Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s successful “one tough nerd” ads and for the 2010 “demon sheep” web ad attacking Tom Campbell in California’s Republican Senate primary.

Hoekstra told reporters Monday that his ad’s “insensitive” only to the spending philosophy of Stabenow and Democratic President Barack Obama.

“We knew we were taking an aggressive approach on this. But this is a time where the people in Michigan and across the country are fed up with the spending, and we wanted to capture that frustration that they had with Washington, D.C.,” he said. “This ad … hits Debbie smack dab between the eyes on the issue where she is vulnerable with the voters of Michigan, and that is spending.”

Glenn Clark, the former Republican chairman in Michigan’s 9th District and a Hoekstra supporter, called it a “great ad.” But most comments weren’t so positive.

National GOP consultant Mike Murphy tweeted that it was “really, really dumb,” and Foreign Policy magazine managing editor Blake Hounshell called it “despicable.”

Stabenow criticized the ad’s “divisiveness” and said Hoekstra should be “embarrassed.”

Two of Hoekstra’s rivals in the Republican primary, Clark Durant and Gary Glenn, issued statements questioning whether the current front-runner is the candidate their party should support.

California Sen. Leland Yee, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Asian Pacific Islander Affairs, said Hoekstra should apologize.

“I would hope that in this day in age, especially from a California company, we were beyond the use of caricatures in political advertisements,” Yee said in a statement. “Regardless of the role of China in our economic situation, making fun of one’s language and culture is completely baseless and unnecessary.”

Several Detroit pastors called for Hoekstra to pull the ad, as did the Michigan Roundtable and the Michigan Asian Pacific American Affairs Commission.

“The Asian woman speaking in this video would be no different than him having a black person speaking in slave dialect,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II of Detroit’s King Solomon Baptist Church, where civil rights leader Malcolm X spoke in the 1960s. He added that Hoekstra’s “using the whole politics of fear, and the whole politics of division, and he knows it.”

. . .

Hoekstra told reporters in a conference call that the ad has “jumpstarted the debate” over deficit spending in Washington and a federal debt of more than $1 trillion. Asked about the woman in the ad, Hoekstra said that “her parents are 100 percent Chinese.”

The kicker for me, though, came last night when I saw this tweet from @derekdevries:

The HTML code on @petehoekstra‘s anti-Stabenow site captions the Asian actress as “yellowgirl”

I checked the source code and that’s exactly what it was. Supporters argue it’s referring to the actress’s yellow shirt. But if you look at the code, all the <img class> tags are reflected in the png file names. For instance, <img class=”spenditnow”> with the png file “spend-it-now.” Except this one. The <img class=”yellowgirl”> and the png file name is “yellow-shirt.” Intentional? Not intentional? It says something either way, even for the conversation it started. The Atlantic’s James Fellow had this to say last night:

The image of the “Chinese” girl in the video, who speaks American-accented English, is labelled as … well, see for yourself:
Yellow1.png

Now, in context, they could have been referring to the color of her shirt, as seen in the picture below. Perhaps. Although in that case “orange girl” is the term that might occur to most people.I suppose it’s as if you were using a picture of Colin Powell or President Obama wearing a black shirt. If you were producing one of these ads, by the same logic you could just label it “black boy,” right? I mean, why not?

I have labels for myself — ashtangi and yoga teacher being two of them — but “yellow girl” sure as hell isn’t one, despite what my birth certificate says.

An ad like this makes you wonder, though, doesn’t it? My father is Chinese and my mother is Thai. I wonder if anyone looks and me and sees “yellow girl.”

===

By the way, to see another Louisiana birth certificate from a few years before mine, see the one released by Bobby Jindal. Why did he release this? “Hoping to avoid a struggle similar to that between President Obama and the so-called “birther movement,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal released his own birth certificate on Friday,” according to the May 7, 2011 Huffington Post story.

Skin color still matters. We’re nowhere near being “beyond race.” Don’t fool yourself into thinking otherwise.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Why Pete Hoekstra’s Super Bowl ad sucks. And oh yeah, why it’s racist.

At the end of each Ashtanga yoga practice, we recite the closing prayer, also called the mangala mantra.

The line I’m thinking about right now is the second English line: “May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Screenshot of Politico story

Here in Michigan, it’s been a news story over the past week that Pete Hoekstra, who is running for the U.S. Senate — a pretty powerful position as far as political seats go — would premiere a campaign ad during the Super Bowl. I just saw it in the pre-Super Bowl run-up, and was stunned. I don’t normally talk politics on this blog, it’s hard to not say something about this one. Politico offers a good summary, in saying that the ad:

features an Asian female with a conical straw hat riding a bike through a rice paddy field.

“Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good [sic],” the actress says, in broken English.

“Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie ‘Spend-it-now’. Debbie spend so much American money [sic],” the actress says, without a Chinese accent. “You borrow more and more, from us… we take your jobs. Thank you Debbie ‘Spend-it-now.’”

It gets better. Check out the tortured attempt at an explanation from the Hoekstra camp:

“You have a Chinese girl speaking English – I want to hit on the education system, essentially. The fact that a Chinese girl is speaking English is a testament to how they can compete with us, when an American boy of the same age speaking Mandarin is absolutely insane, or unthinkable right now,” Hoekstra spokesperson Paul Ciaramitaro told POLITICO. “It exhibits another way in which China is competing with us globally.”

“I think that China is our global competitor and the facts are what they are. They hold $1.1 trillion of our debt, their economy is booming, ours is not. It’s not a racial overtone to compare yourself to competitors on the global stage,” added Ciaramitaro. “I think the viewer of an ad is going to recognize satire. … I wouldn’t agree of the characterization [of the ad] as racial.”

My father is Chinese and my mother is Thai, and they came to American in the 1970s to attend graduate school. As a second-generation Asian-American, I try to not be knee-jerky reactive when it comes to labeling something racist. I realize part of it is education. I try to take a measured approach and discern whether I am overly sensitive, someone else is overly sensitive, etc. I know this country has come a long way, but I know there’s a long way to. And this ad proves that latter point.

The ad is racist.

For one thing, the Hoesktra camp talks about education system, but the ad doesn’t take place in a classroom. It relies on all the stereotypes — the straw hat, the rice fields, the broken English, the idea that we (viewers in Michigan and, by extension, America) are threatened by this girl, who stands for her entire society (read: race). The accompanying website is no better — and arguably, it’s worse, with its dragons, fans, red doors and all the rest. (Yep, still not a classroom in sight on the website.)

I’m not going to get into the politics of the claims. I will say that fear-mongering and protectionism do not constitute the right path, and the more our leaders go down that path, the more it gives way to citizens who see the enemy everywhere they turn. I’m not saying we should pretend everyone gets along in a kumbaya kind of way. I am saying that if candidates can’t stay on the right path in a commercial, how can I expect them to stay on the right path about anything else — like foreign policy, immigration law, and yes, economic spending. Because if you thought those were well-spent dollars, then I hate to see what you would want to buy if you were elected.

I won’t embed the video of the ad or do screenshots of the accompanying website, but you have to see it so you can decide for yourself. Here you go.

(Graphic credit: Screenshot from the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute website.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Tim Miller workshop in Columbus, Ohio will give glimpses into primary, second and third series

Photo of a scene from Short North, the Columbus neighborhood in which Yoga on High is located.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Tim Miller. It’s no secret I’m a big fan of Yoga on High. And it’s no secret I’m a big fan of Columbus, Ohio, which is really pretty cool. Every April, when Tim pays his annual visit to Yoga on High, I get to enjoy all three together. This year, there’s a bonus — I get all three plus a rare glimpse of the first three series of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga as narrated by Tim, who is one of the best guides to this system I have ever met.

Typically, Tim would hold a weekend intensive — which covered philosophy, pranayama and, of course, the physical practice — followed by three days of an intensive. For the past few years, Tim essentially brought sections of his two-week teacher training to Yoga on High. Last year when I attended, we spent the intensive wrapping up the series by an intensive on finishing poses.

Tim’s changing it up this year. Check out what the three-day intensive will bring:

K. Pattabhi Jois, better known as Guruji, devoted 70 years of his life to researching and teaching the methodology that we know as Ashtanga Yoga. Based on the foundational teachings he was given by his Guru, the great T. Krishnamacharya, Guruji spent many years putting together the asana sequences that have come to be called Yoga Chikitsa (Primary Series), Nadi Shodhana (Intermediate Series), and Sthira Bhaga (Advanced Series). All of these sequences went through changes over the years and have only been practiced in their current form for the past 30 years. It was largely through Guruji’s interaction with his western students that these sequences were refined into their present form.  The western students have been both the primary guinea pigs and the main beneficiaries of this refining of the system.

Tim Miller had the rare opportunity to work closely with Guruji for over 30 years and has practiced and taught these sequences faithfully since 1978.  He brings a wealth of experience, understanding, expertise and devotion to the transmission of Guruji’s methodology as well as a thorough knowledge of the philosophical foundations of the practice—the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

In this intensive, Tim will guide an exploration of Guruji’s first three asana sequences, devoting one day to each.  Monday’s practice will be Yoga Chikitsa, Tuesday’s will be Nadi Shodhana, and Wednesday’s will be Sthira Bhaga.  Tim will offer an in-depth explanation of the purpose of these sequences as well as adaptations and preparations for some of the more challenging asanas.  The three days will include selected yoga sutras, an introduction to the traditional Ashtanga pranayama sequence, stories from Indian mythology and a small taste of kirtan.

The weekend session will be as enlightening and grounding as always:

When you practice ashtanga yoga, you are a part of a lineage. Tim Miller is a key figure in carrying this tradition forward having studied so intensively with Sri Pattabhi Jois over so long a time.  We are honored to host Tim each year—join us to spend a weekend working (playfully!) with a yoga master. Weekend intensives can help shift your practice to a deeper level and offer you insight into how the primary series works in individual poses and as a whole circle of poses. You will also learn more about your lineage and how the physical work leads you to the state of yoga. A light practice on Friday night will establish a relationship between yoga philosophy as presented in the Yoga Sutras and the practical methodology of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Saturday’s practice will focus on the Primary Series as physical manifestation of this relationship. Saturday afternoon will explore the morning practice in more depth—to look at troublesome asanas and address specific problems, concerns, and questions. Sunday’s class will be playful, spontaneous, and improvisational, and explore the whole notion of intelligent sequencing in moving towards a particular destination. Sunday will also include an introduction to pranayama.

Registration is open. Need I say more?

By the way, if you don’t already follow/like/read:

 

 

(Photo credit: Both from the Short North Arts District website.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

Two MP3s from David Robson with a steady drumbeat for your practice

MP3 for a practice drumbeat, MP3 for a led Ashtanga primary series practice
(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)

20120120-052316.jpg

I wrote two blog posts when David Robson released his new Learn to Float DVD. In one of them, I wrote about how:

…there’s a steady drumbeat provided by percussionist Mathew Stephens that marks one beat per second, with each inhale lasting four beats and each exhale lasting four breaths.

David makes a point to say that the drumbeat is just a prop — when you practice on your own, your breath may be a slower or faster. He says, ‘What matters is that you’re feeling what it’s like to breathe evenly, and to pace the movements evenly with the breath.’

This is where this video truly excels, in my opinion — in distilling the essence of the practice and setting a steady pace that can deepen the meditative level of these movements that are strung together. Not only do the beats play the role of a metronome for the practice — they prevent you from cheating in poses you don’t like. I know my tendency is to take longer breaths in poses I like, such as tiriang mukhaikapada paschimottanasana (three-limbed forward bend), and shorter breaths in postures I have aversions to, such as utthita hasta padangusthasana (extended hand-to-big-toe).

If you want to read the post, you can find them here and here. I’m happy to see that in addition to the DVD and the streaming video options, you can download an MP3 of just that percussion, set to one drumbeat per second for a total of 80 minutes. The MP3 costs $4.99 in Canadian dollars. The last time I checked, the U.S. and Canadian dollars weren’t too far apart.

For $9.99, you can download an MP3 with that drumbeat along with verbal cues for a led Ashtanga primary series practice. Here’s the description:

David Robson leads you through Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series to the steady beat of a drum. The class is led according to the traditional Sanskrit count, as taught by R Sharath Jois in Mysore, India. The vinyasa count is set to the hypnotic beat of a drum, which supports and deepens the focus on breathing through the practice. The recording is organized into chapters, allowing you to practice just the standing poses, half or full Primary Series. The teaching in this recording is intended for those who have some experience and familiarity with Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

I don’t know how other practitioners feel about practicing to a drumbeat, but I can’t wait to try these new offerings. When you connect with the rhythm of this practice, the meditative potential is immense. You can find both at the Learn to Float website.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

A beginner’s mind

Last night, I took a class in the viniyoga tradition for the first time. Tonight, I taught the first session of my new three-session introductory workshop to Ashtanga yoga. Both were absolutely lovely experiences for me, and the juxtaposition of the two evenings has me thinking about the beginner’s mind.

The student side

Since discovering Ashtanga yoga a dozen years or so ago, this style of yoga has been my first and true love. It still is — I mean, every time I attend an Ashtanga workshop that allows for deeply exploring the practice from a slightly different angle than I do day to day, I feel almost giddy all over again at what a brilliantly designed method this is and how much I simply love it. But a Yoga International article by Gary Kraftsow that I read over the Thanksgiving holiday last year had me intrigued by viniyoga — in particular its potential as a healing modality — and I learned that someone here in the greater Lansing area has extensive training with Kraftsow. I normally can’t make the time of Kathy Ornish‘s class (that’s what you get for teaching so many yoga classes), but the time happens to work for the next three weeks, so I asked if I could drop in to the series. Happily, she said yes.

It takes a lot of letting go to put aside what you know (or at least what you think you know) and try to fully experience a new style of yoga. What I try to do is listen to a teacher’s instructors and bring in as little of my own experience as possible. It’s impossible to not bring in anything, of course, but I try to stay focused on the very specific instruction and take the words at face value, to the extent that’s possible. So if I’m in a class and I’m asked to feel my spinal movements in cakravakasana, I try to stay within my breath, bones, flesh and joints, focusing on feeling just the effects of the specific instructions rather than channel what years of yoga has taught me about how to breathe, move and hold.

The teaching side

When I teach introductory classes — something I am always grateful for the opportunity to do — I try to work backwards. In these instances, I channel all the amazing teachers I’ve had over the years — I’ve been very lucky that way and have had outstanding instructors — and try to distill the lessons I’ve taken from them. I then construct a set of modules — maybe it’s a set of breathing techniques — that builds, and, I hope, takes someone from square one to that insight that has done so much for me.

Are you getting through? Is it working? It can be hard to tell at first. You have to really try to read the room, stay flexible so that you can change course on a dime if it’s not, and have faith that the power of the method will ultimately radiate out and seep into the consciousness of the students who are in that room in the first place because they are open-minded enough to want to be there.

I’ve long had such deep respect for what language teachers know about what their students know — from straight-up vocabulary words to how much of the structure of the language their students have a handle on. I figure you need at least a few key things to be able to do this effectively — you need to be able to start where the student is and build from there, you need to truly love the subject you’re trying to convey, and you need the humility to carry out the task. That combination of passion and humility provides some important motivation to make second-by-second calculations on what you need to say and do next to even begin to do justice to such an impossibly brilliant system.

I’d write more, but it’s late — past midnight, which means the practice in the morning will be a bit rough (more on how the six-day-a-week practice is going in an upcoming blog post, but the short answer is, thankfully, pretty good!). In any case, I’m really looking forward to being a student again next Tuesday evening with K.O. of Good Space Yoga (located at the Center for Yoga in East Lansing), followed the next evening by the chance to share the second session of this three-week introductory workshop at Sanctuary Yoga in Okemos.

I guess it boils down to this: I’m a student in both cases, a student when I’m learning, and a student even — especially — when I’m occupying the role of an instructor.

I would love to hear your thoughts on attaining/re-attaining/maintaining (however you view it) a beginner’s mind.

(Graphic credit: The Quote Series: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few (Shunryu Suzuki) via VeRoNiK@ GR‘s Flickr.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

I wanted people to know about my new yoga workshop starting today but…

…I felt strongly enough about joining the SOPA protests that I installed this WordPress.org plugin so that visitors to YogaRose.net are automatically redirected to a “Stop SOPA” message on Jan. 18 (and will be again on Jan. 23, when the Senate version of the pro-censorship legislation comes up).

If I hadn’t done this, this would have been the blog post on the homepage of this site — the post where I talk about the new three-session Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga series that’s starting Jan. 18 at 5:15 p.m. at Sanctuary Yoga located in Okemos, Mich.
In my former life, I was a newspaper reporter. Guess I’m still one at heart.

(Graphic credit: Communipedia)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga

This week, I’m excited to be starting a three-session workshop at Sanctuary Yoga. The workshop — which costs $30 and runs 5:15-6:15 p.m. for three consecutive Wednesdays — is designed for anyone who has been curious about Ashtanga yoga but has been either too intimidated or simply too busy to try it. Here’s the description:

This three-week introductory course provides a multilevel introduction to Ashtanga yoga. Each session will include a physical practice — designed to give you a taste of both the challenge and radiance of Ashtanga — and time to discuss historical roots and cultural growth. We’ll cover sun salutations, standing poses, key seated poses and transitions. Each student will leave with resources for continuing a personal yoga practice based on compassion for the body and mind.

Read more or register for Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga. If you have questions about the course, drop me a line at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com.

At the conclusion of that workshop, I’ll start teaching a weekly class at Sanctuary Yoga. That class, which begins Feb. 7, will run 7:30-8:45 p.m., and will be a led half primary series class.

A sanctuary for the body-mind-spirit connection

Sanctuary Yoga, located in Okemos just off Okemos Road (across from Ace Hardware and Douglas J), is a relatively new and lovely addition to the greater Lansing area’s expanding landscape of yoga studios. I look around not just this area, but the state of Michigan, and it’s very cool to see the traditional Ashtanga offerings that are increasingly available.

  • In Royal Oak, Matthew Darling’s established Ashtanga Michigan continues to pass on the lineage of this practice.
  • In Ann Arbor, after a few years of what I perceived to be an Ashtanga drought, Angela Jamison has founded AY: A2 and also teaches weekly at A2 Yoga. In a short amount of time — less than two years — she has reinvigorated the community’s Ashtanga practitioners by sharing her knowledge, offering individual attention, bringing in visiting scholars and holding affordable retreats to help students deepen their understanding of the practice.
Beyond the realm of authorized and certified teachers, there’s a steady current too:
  • New and established studios across the Lower Peninsula also seem to be increasing offering led classes. (I haven’t seen that trend in the Upper Peninsula yet — but if I’m wrong, and you know of Ashtanga offerings in the U.P., let me know!)
  • Closer to home, Hilltop Yoga has been offering led Ashtanga classes for years.

In short, day after day (except on moon days 😉 ), week after week, teachers across the state are demystifying this practice, one adjustment or verbal cue at a time.

Beth Baldwin Mackowiak, founder of Sanctuary Yoga, very generously welcomed me to her studio, which she founded last year, and let me set out how I wanted to teach Ashtanga here. So I pitched this workshop out of a spirit of wanting to do my little part to help more people taste this life-altering practice — and decide for themselves if it’s a practice they want to pursue. If they decide that the particular style of Ashtanga yoga is not for them, I hope that the workshop at least provides a foundation to experience the breath and feel how, when connected to movement, it can produce heat, provide a lightness, and calm the mind.

Please to meet you

I think one of the beauties of Ashtanga yoga is that once you strip away the factors that seem to keep people away — the idea that’s it’s too hard, that it’s not compassionate to the body, that only athletes and Type A personalities gravitate toward it — you discover the true awe of the method. I guess I’m aiming to demystify what the superficial aspects of the practice so that people can experience the true beauty of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

I love teaching basics and introductory yoga classes for beginners. The Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga  I taught until last month at Hilltop Yoga was consistently one of my favorite to teach. No two classes were ever the same, and it was fulfilling to see the spark that students sometimes had with their first connection to their bodies and their internal landscapes. (I would have loved to have continued teaching that class, but I struggled to find the right time on the schedule there to attract a consistent group each week.)

Do you remember your first yoga class? I still remember mine. It was love at first breath.

>>See the rest of my teaching schedule in the greater Lansing area. 

(Graphic info: Wordle based on the description of my new workshop beginning this week. Create your own.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

On cybershalas and old-school blogs

In Italy, I was absolutely inspired by the food. Back home and now mostly (hopefully!) recovered from a nasty bug picked up on the plane ride returning stateside, I have a renewed commitment to being more vigilant about what my consume. Three related events from earlier today:

All the while, I’m thinking that as I get deeper into the Ashtanga blogging world — like, when I start to know gossip going on in Mysore right now — am I being vigilant enough in the Ashtanga-related information I’m consuming? There’s plenty of potentially distracting yoga drama right here where I live — do I need to know the ins and outs of the good intentions and bad feelings taking place half a world away from me? Is that helping my practice — and just as important, my teaching? (You could argue it potentially helps my blogging, but that’s a topic for another day.)

When I got home, I looked up the link that @ClaudiaYoga had referred to.  And that brings me to this post. The link goes to “Virtual Transmission, Visceral Practice: Dance Central and the Cybershala,”  a blog post based on a scholar’s recent paper. It’s a fascinating discussion and I recommend reading the entire post. But here’s the core introducing why Kiri Miller, who is a practicing ashtangi herself, is exploring this:

An overwhelming number of yoga blogs, videos, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, and other forms of online social media now constitute a ‘cybershala’ of ashtanga yoga practitioners—many who work with teachers regularly, others who are cultivating a practice as ‘home ashtangis’ (cf. Finnegan 1989 on ‘hidden musicians’). Yoga bloggers face a challenge familiar to ethnomusicologists and dance scholars: how can one communicate kinesthetic, multisensory experiences without bodily presence and a shared sensorium?

In delving further into this issue, Miller finds herself watching videos and thinking the experience was “very much like the experience of listening to music that I knew how to play.” Then she realizes that watching the Ashtanga videos gave her the uncomfortable feeling that she might be “cheating” on her teacher:

Ashtanga students are not supposed to start experimenting with advanced asana of their own accord. On the other hand, the structured nature of ashtanga makes it particularly well suited to independent practice, amateur-to-amateur pedagogy, and online discourse among a dispersed community of practitioners. Browsing YouTube videos of ashtanga backbends quickly led me to “grimmly2007,” who had uploaded about 300 videos so that he could embed them in his yoga blog.

Miller describes Grimmly’s challenge to the Ashtanga tradition of one-on-one transmission from teacher to student, and then goes on to discuss the popular video game Dance Central.

If you don’t know about Grimmly, you should definitely read her synopsis and head over to his blog.

I’m less interested in Dance Central — only because I’ve only seen it on TV and have never played it myself — but I am quite intrigued by the questions that Miller is raising for Ashtanga practitioners because I live in the middle of the Mitten State. Here in Lansing, Mich., even though there is no dedicated Ashtanga shala, I  have fine access to Ashtanga classes and teachers, and I have friends who are as enamored of the practice as I am. But…I don’t really have anyone to consistently geek it out with, if you know what I mean. And even if I were in New York City or Encinitas, it’s not really fair to ask of anyone to be available — by phone, by email, whatever — when it’s 2 a.m. and I can’t sleep and I want to discuss more research postures for supta kurmasana (sleeping tortoise). (Who has that? Even if your significant other practices, can you really wake them up during your insomnia to talk more Ashtanga?) Anyway, when I started blogging more frequently, I started getting more engaged with the Ashtanga community via blogs, Twitter and Facebook and, yes, YouTube. It was like having a community full of people who understood me — where I didn’t have to justify (like I on occasion have to do with non-ashtangis) how I don’t get bored by doing the same sequence day after day — especially now that I’m practicing six days a week.

In short, I thought the online Ashtanga community — what has apparently been coined the “cybershala” — was ultimately deepening my practice. But in recent weeks — and really, I mean recent — a seed’s been planted about whether I’m always reading the right blogs. Whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing when I know about the latest elephant journal post related to Ashtanga. I should stress that these are just seeds of thoughts — that on the whole, I don’t think I’m even close to subsisting on a diet of junk yoga products. (And whenever I worry about that last elephant journal post, I know I can consume organic Ashtanga produce again by heading here, a blog’s that’s as heady as it is honest, as esoteric as it is earthy.)

All I know is that I am consuming enough Ashtanga-related news, information and instruction that I know I need to be as vigilant about this as I am about what I’m putting into my body.

Back to the cybershala. Miller concludes (emphasis mine):

Both the cybershala and Dance Central make it possible for practitioners to learn a physically demanding, minutely codified repertoire without ever interacting with a physically-present teacher. Grimmly and his fellow cybershala practitioners are creating new transmission modalities for ashtanga yoga, from reflective writing to side-by-side slideshows that might reveal hidden traces of corporeal knowledge. Meanwhile, Dance Central players are learning hours of choreography while also working through their ideas about gender identity, public and private performance, and virtual community. These paradigm shifts in yoga and dance transmission might shed light on similar changes in the transmission of performing arts traditions that rely on a lineage of teachers and students, body-to-body pedagogy, and a codified repertoire or fundamental skill set. Dance Central and the cybershala show how professional game designers, home ashtangis, and living-room dancers are all finding ways to use available technology and social media platforms to support the virtual transmission of embodied practice.

“New transmission modalities for ashtanga yoga” is interesting. I mean, isn’t that exactly what was driving my desire to create the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid? Grimmly is an amazing case study, but what I find as important to think about are authorized and certified teachers such as Kino MacGregor and David Garrigues, who are prolific in their online teaching modalities — tweeting, YouTubing, blogging and more. Like many other practitioners, I’ve benefitted from what they put out there and I share with others what speaks most to me.

Where all that falls short, of course, is the part about supporting “virtual transmission of embodied practice.” In this practice, we use the body to go beyond the body, and if you’ve found your teacher, then you know that no amount of instructional videos can transmit that radiance of being the same space as that teacher. I love social media — it’s a large part of what I do for work. But I’m happy that virtual transmissions can’t replace perhaps the most important element of a teacher-student relationship.

I kind of used to wonder why Tim Miller — the biggest spark of inspiration in my practice, aside from finding the practice in the first place — has never done an instructional DVD or book. Or why his blog focuses on Vedic astrology, his personal reflections, the meanings of holidays, and just about everything but the Ashtanga practice itself. This blog post about the rise of virtual transmission of embodied practice might be the answer I’ve been looking for. He is — bless his heart — an old-school kind of guy. Probably exactly what we need as a counterpose in this modern world of smart phones, on-demand access and virtual realities.

P.S. — On the topic of consumption: I’m happy to report that my dinner consisted of open-face sandwiches of fresh sourdough, black truffle butter (Italy ruined me on the black truffle front — I love it!), baby kale, provolone and cajun Boar’s Head meat. If you’re judging on the meat, let that go, because this is a huge step up from the meals that I prepare for myself. And that’s all we can ask on the self-improvement front, right?

P.P.S — I’m looking forward to reading The Information Diet — after, of course, I finish Thinking…Fast and Slow.

(Screenshot souce: Click on it, and you will see…)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Florence travel journal (part 5): Itineraries + essential guides + getting there

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 5: Itineraries + essential guides + getting there

This is the final installment of the barely tangentially related to yoga 😉 travel series on my trip to Firenze over New Year’s Eve. This one is all about getting there and getting around. (I would have finished it by now, except I’ve spent much of the past week KO’d by a bug I’m convinced we picked up on the flight from Amsterdam back to Michigan. As I’ve said elsewhere — I’m not complaining about this. All I wanted was to not be sick in Italy, and I felt great the entire trip.)

>>Getting there (or, why we <3 our travel agent more than we can tell you)<<

So here’s the deal. Scott and I have never ever used a travel agent. We were under the impression — that, we have found, many of our friends were under as well — you have to pay travel agents to do things you can do yourself online. Not true. We didn’t pay a dime to book our flight and hotel through our travel agent — and here’s the killer part — we paid half what we would have paid on our own. Half. We went online and checked a package that included the same number of nights at our hotel, on the same flight (departure and arrival day), and I’m not kidding, this trip was half that price. So, had we done this on our own, one of us would have gotten to take this trip (we joke that we both know which one of us would get to go), or we would have been able to afford three nights rather than seven.

We worked with Classic Travel based in Okemos, MIch. Joy Thrun and the excellent team at Classic Travel literally made this trip happen for us. Scott and I can’t thank them enough. And part of the reason, I think, is that Joy and her husband, Tom, truly love traveling, and sharing that passion. Here’s a snippet from the Classic Travel website:

Time flies when you are having fun. Probably the oldest cliché in the world, but for us at Classic Travel, it certainly holds true. It does not seem possible that we have been selling travel and all the exciting things that come with it for thirty one wonderful years. And thanks to you, our well-traveled clientele, we have had the pleasure of sharing in your globe-trotting adventures for the past quarter century.

Over this time we have witnessed events that have changed the world and impacted our industry. Travel is our business, but above all, it is our passion. We believe that travel contributes immeasurably to the overall quality of life. No matter how well traveled you may be, each trip you embark on brings knowledge and new experiences. Travel is continuing education and we will never run out of exotic places to go. One of the most precious rights that we have is the ability to move freely around this fascinating world of ours. To experience the diversity and richness of far away places creating memories that will last a lifetime, we are proud to be one of the most experienced travel companies in the entire industry, but we continue to grow in many different areas.

We also have to thank Sara Metz, whose trip to Morocco with her husband, Will (catch him live here), inspired me to ask her about traveling. She promptly put me in touch with Joy.

So if you’re reading this and thinking you’ll never visit Italy, I want to say that I didn’t think I’d get there either — at least not any time soon. Life works in strange ways sometimes. Stay realistic, but hopeful, that you’ll eventually find a way to make the trips you dream about.

And if you do go to Florence, here was our itinerary, along with some tips on finding the right guides.

>>Itineraries<<

We flew out of Detroit two days after Christmas, stayed all seven nights in Florence, but took the following day trips (one-way travel time by fast train in parenthesis):

  • Venice (two hours)
  • Rome (1.5 hours)

In addition, we devoted an entire day to taking a 12-hour tour aboard a comfortable bus that allowed us to visit the following towns in Tuscany:

  • Sienna
  • San Gimignano
  • Pisa

I don’t have travel stats to bear this out, but I have this idea that Americans tend to gravitate more toward Rome and Venice. Before this trip, I had very little sense of geography of this boot-shaped country, and probably would have been happy to spend seven days in any of these cities. After this trip, I thought Florence was the perfect — truly, the best — home base for me. It’s a compact but lively, walkable city (apparently it was once rough for pedestrians but has, thanks to car-free zones, become quite pedestrian-friendly — though you still have to watch out for that crazy Italian driving!). Florence is home to the Renaissance and a cultural cradle. Seeing Michelangelo’s David in person is awe-inspiring. You’re a hop and skip away from fascinating and gorgeous Tuscan towns. All the culinary Italian specialties I’m so enamored of — like tiramisu and pappardelle — have roots in the Tuscan region. What’s not to love?

>>Essential guides<<

Rick Steves’ Italy 2012

It got to be a joke at some point that every American we met on our travels toted a dog-eared copy of the Rick Steves Italy book like their travel bible. We bought Rick Steves this time because his London guide served us so well last year, and his Italy book proved to be every bit as useful as the London edition. In addition to the overviews, tips and details you need from a good guidebook, I really appreciated the extras — like the appendix that includes an annotated copy of an actual train ticket so you know what each part of the ticket says.

 

Rick Steves’ Italian Phrase Book & Dictionary

This pocket book was the one I pulled out of my purse most frequently. I’d argue that you need this compact little thing even if you get the Rick Steves country book. The phrase book has a menu decoder divided by theme — desserts, wine, etc. — and sections on hailing a taxi, getting a room, and so on. There are also handy Italian-English and English-Italian dictionaries tucked inside. I was happy to see that this book included phrases such as “I’m allergic to” (“Sono allergico[a] al…”) and “Sorry for the mess” (“Scusi per il pasticccio”).

 

Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Florence & Tuscany

This slim number was a wonderful reference to check on everything from masterpieces of art located in the Uffrizi Gallery to masterpieces of the culinary kind brought to your dinner table.

Great Eats Italy

I really liked this book for the introduction, which gives some great tips for finding good eats throughout Italy. The book then provides specific recommendations by neighborhood.

Hotel concierge

A guidebook can only get you so far. The concierge at the Grand Hotel Baglioni got us a reservation at what was, hands down, our best meal in Florence (Buca Mario). (By the way, there doesn’t seem to be a standard recommendation for tipping for concierge services, but I recommend tipping, especially if they book something for you.) This hotel, which is ridiculously centrally located and a place we really enjoyed, would normally be way out of our price range — see the travel agent section above on how we managed that.

Your tour guides

I highly recommend paying the extra however many euros it takes to see the Uffrizi and Accademia Gallery with a tour rather than on your own. For one thing, you skip the unbearably long line and go right in with your group. For another, especially if you’re traveling as a couple, it’s a nice way to get out of your couple bubble and meet fellow travelers. We met a great family from Pittsburgh on our Uffirzi tour, and if we’re ever in Pittsburg, we’ll be dropping them a line. Maybe we just got lucky, but every single one of our tour guides were awesome — full of character quirks and full of passion for their beautiful city. Tour guides are also great sources for general tips and restaurant recommendations.

>>Random travel tips<<

Some of my random travel tips:

Tell your friends, family members, colleagues and travel agent about your fantasy trips.

You never know if a tip they might hear about and send your way could get the ball rolling for a getaway. If you have the kind of lifestyle where you could leave quickly for a trip, sign up for notifications about last-minute deals. Ask around for good travel agent recommendations, and let them know your parameters.

Barter presents at home for better meals abroad.

This year, Scott and I agreed: No Christmas presents. Believe me, every bit we saved on that, we spent in Italy. Knowing that our families would insist on getting us Christmas presents, we told them about our plans, so that they could get us something related to the trip, thus decreasing our expenses that much more. Scott’s parents got us fantastic luggage that could handle the abuse of international travel, and my parents got us the gadgets that we couldn’t live without (namely, the converter for our iPhones and iPad) and a great Italian Berlitz CD set and computer program that taught us how to properly say, “Parla inglese?”

Avoid credit cards if it’s possible (and safe)

Credit cards typically charge you a percentage of each transaction (a small percentage, but it adds up quickly), so if you’re traveling in a pretty safe area, see if you can roll with cash. Exchange a chunk of currency before you go (in the Lansing area, we got great rates at Liberty Coin), limit the number of times you use the local ATMS, and try to avoid credit cards. Scott and I didn’t pull out our credit cards once in Italy — and again, every bit we saved on transaction fees, we spent on meals. :-)

Keep your info handy

Electronically saving your passport information via a scan using Google Docs, Evernote (thanks to Kate Tykocki for this idea) or by dropping in Dropbox, just in case you’re in a jam and need it. Perhaps online security experts will tell me this is a bad idea, but I think not having access to your info is also a bad idea. And hey, here’s a recent story about a guy who had to resort to using a copy of his passport scanned on his iPad to get back into the country — honestly, your personal odds of getting back into the U.S. with a scanned passport is probably a big fat 0.0 percent chance, but it’s an interesting tale if nothing else.

The little things

Ask your hotel concierge before you leave home how much a trip from the airport to the hotel by taxi should cost, so that you’re not scammed by drivers who claim a different flat fee (not all airports post the mandated flat fees).

Travel like you won’t be back

Rick Steves likes to say in his guidebooks that you should assume you’ll return. I think he’s saying it to encourage Type-A American travelers from rushing from point A to point B so much that they don’t actually experience the trip. I say, however, travel like you won’t be back — so if you are wondering what something tastes like, by all means, taste it. Spend the extra euros to skip the two-hour-long line to get into the museum, so that you’ll have two more hours to wander, explore and be surprised. You can eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for as long as you need to when you return to make up for the extra little flourishes that you’ll remember for years to come.

>>Smart phones and iPads<<

Verizon vs. AT&T

Finally, if you are considering an iPhone or an iPad and don’t know whether to go with Verizon or AT&T, you might consider how important it is to you to be able to use the device when you travel abroad. Verizon and AT&T devices are built on different technologies, and AT&T devices are more likely to use the the same GSM technology used in European countries. When I bought my iPad, I chose AT&T over Verizon, and that was one of the main reasons. Before we left, we added an international data plan and took what we needed from the Apple World Traveler Adapter Kit my parents had gotten us. For more on this issue, because I don’t have the patience to think any more about it, see The New York Times‘ “How to beat roaming fees while traveling abroad.”

>>Worth the trouble?<<

There’s alway that moment in a trip abroad when I am remember how much work it is to travel. How awkward it can be. How exhausting. And then there’s always that moment when I remember why it’s worth all the trouble — all the scrimping and saving, all the research, all the harried, last-minute (in my case) packing.

At the end of our Uffrizi tour, Antonio, a very proud Florentine who spoke with a heavy Italian accent, said, “May you travel a great deal. The best money is spent on holiday.”

He is absolutely right.

As for us…I know we said we wouldn’t be heading back to Italy any time soon. That is true. But when we do, we already know the area we’re most interested in making our home base for exploring — with at least a day trip to Firenze, of course.

Arrivederci!

(Graphic credits: Florence’s Porcellino: Via http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:PorcellinoFlorence.jpg, Why this statue? Tuscany map: Screen capture of map from http://www.italyguides.it/us/italy/tuscany/tuscany-italy.htm. )

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Careening, or not

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Lansing, Mich., but the streak can’t last forever, and tonight, we’re seeing our first snow in a while. Driving home, I thought about how much I love my new snow tires. I never felt like I was able to hug the road under inclement conditions with my all-season tires — roads felt so slippery even when I drastically reduced my speed. And one incident last winter was the last straw: even though I was driving — crawling, you might say — extremely slowly on the highway, my little Corolla spun and I found myself turned around looking at a semi coming toward me. Luckily, there weren’t many cars on the road, and the truck was able to swerve and avoid me. I vowed then that I would get a car that can handle Midwestern storms by the following winter.

But that was before I knew there’d be a wedding in 2012, and all the expense that comes with that. Plus, I’d rather travel than upgrade a car anyway. I invested in serious snow tires instead.

I realize for people who don’t practice yoga, talk of the non-physical benefits of yoga can sometimes seem vague — grandiose, even (I mean, yoga as a system to help remove human suffering is a pretty big statement).

So…here’s my analogy for the day (because you can’t have too many yoga analogies, right?), for those who don’t practice yoga and want another description of that feeling and that transformation that can come from getting on the mat day after day. For me, snow tires are to winter driving as yoga is to living life — you feel less susceptible to the elements. Definitely not impervious to the elements — just less susceptible. When a light snow turns into driving snow, it may not be pleasant, but you’re less likely to lose control and careen off your path. Better traction, more control, more ability to focus and continue on the journey.

Safe travels.

(Photo credit: “Drive by Snow” by  apographon_de via Flickr Creative Commons.) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Florence travel journal (part 4): Five romantic spots in Florence (and why I found Florence more romantic than Venice)

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 4: Five romantic spots in Florence (and why I found Florence more romantic than Venice)

Gelato and a carousel ride in the Piazza della Repubblica

Have a little post-dinner fun at a gelataria. Ask for a couple of tastes of gelato (“un assagio, per favore”) before settling on your choice. With Italy’s best gelato in hand, make your way to Piazza della Repubblica, a famous square where intellectuals used to pass the time. Take a carousel ride — if it’s not high season, you may get the carousel all to yourself — and then slide into one of the cafes on the square, where you can sink into some chairs and order a drink or two.

Atop the Duomo cupola at night

Walking up the 463 steps it takes to reach the pinnacle of Florence’s Duomo isn’t exactly foreplay — and nothing kills a lascivious mood like the dome’s horrific paintings of hell, which you view along an inner terrace before making the final ascent — but once you’re at the top, the journey is quickly forgotten. On a clear night, there’s no better way to have your breath taken away by this view — of both the city and your love interest.

Hotel Baglioni’s rooftop terrace restaurant with a view of the Duomo

Florence is a compact city, and Il Duomo is a constant presence, quietly but undeniably looming large. The enclosed rooftop terrace restaurant on the fifth floor of the Hotel Baglioni is a beautiful place for a romantic dinner. Make sure you request a window table before confirming the reservation, since there are a limited number of those prime seats. The evening view is perfect, but if a pricier bill (il conto) ruins the mood for you, book a lunch together instead.

Ponte Vecchio and other points along Fiume Arno under the moonlight

Area around Ponte Vecchio and Fiume Arno Take a nighttime stroll in the moonlight along the Arno River and the Ponte VecchioPonte Vecchio (Old Bridgeis Florence’s most famous bridge — a beautiful span over the river that divides Florence into its northern and southern areas. In the early days of the Ponte Vecchio, butcher shops lined the bridge, but they were ousted in the 16th century to allow goldsmiths and silversmiths to fill in those spaces.

I’ll admit I have a bias for this area. Around 3 a.m. after a night of celebrating New Year’s Eve, we decided we would head back to the hotel. But Scott suggested that we walk down by the river before we go. And when we crossed onto the Ponte Santa Trinita, a little bridge west of the Ponte Vecchio, he got on one knee and asked me to marry him. Our wedding’s been planned since August, but we’ve been joking that we need a better story of our nuptials-to-be. (The real story being that we were unromantically sitting on the couch one day and figured we should probably get married, buy a house, try to have a kid, all that good stuff.) Of course, I said yes. Fully and absolutely, yes. That moment by the river — it was the sweetest moment I could have asked for.

To be determined

There were lots of places I could have chosen for the fifth slot, including getting out of town and heading north to Fiesole or south to Siena for dinner. But I’ll leave this as a placeholder for you to find your own unique, not-guidebook-driven romantic spot.

Who’s the most romantic of them all?

Venice is so often touted as the romantic city in Italy. That wasn’t the case for me. Obviously, I spent far more time in Florence than I did in Italy, since we were only in Venezia for a day.

Not to take anything away from the city’s inherent beauty, its fascinating history and the lovely time couples from all over the world have on the narrow, winding stone paths, but the city as it stands now feels too touristy for me — too much of a Disneyland with ready-made moments of romance. It’s strange knowing that you’ll be surrounded by pretty much only two categories of people: tourists like yourself and local Italians who work in the tourism industry to ensure that tourists like yourself have a good time.

Venice had other factors going against it too — starting with the weather. It was cold, wet and overcast the day we paid a visit.

For me, though, perhaps the ultimate rub goes back to the fact that everyone says Venice is so perfectly romantic. I’m admittedly stubborn on some things, and I don’t like being told what to do or think or feel.

The Yoga Sutras talk about isvara pranidhana — translated so many different ways, with one being “surrendering to the divine.” Part of our yogic journey asks of us a huge, groundbreaking thing — being able to see beyond ourselves and let go. To surrender.

The backbending portion of the Ashtanga practice is one place where we can see a stark example of a surrendering process. The basic idea is that you have to learn to trust your teacher to dip you back toward a full backbend three times before you’re gently released to flow into the full form.

Here’s an example, recorded during Tim Miller’s two-week teacher training course last year:

If you don’t practice yoga, that dropback can seem almost harrowing. But I can attest that when you trust your teacher, there’s an immense sense of security and stability in a dropback. That’s the key — you have to trust your teacher, and your teacher has to be worthy of that trust. When that’s in place, the surrender is beautiful.

Back to romance and relationships. It’s not easy for all of us to let go and fully surrender into what a relationship has to offer. I don’t think I’ve been able to do that in the past — I was very selfishly gripping to my sense of self.

I’m ready now.

–>Read the other installments of this travel journal 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Florence travel journal (part 3): How Florence rates on the yoga thermometer

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 3: How Florence rates on the yoga thermometer + my most unyogic moment on the trip

Yoga wasn’t the focus of this trip, but I usually try to get a taste of the local yoga scene whenever I travel. If cities such as London, Los Angeles, Vancouver and New York get a “hot” rating on a yoga thermometer based on the sheer number of yoga studios, I would say Florence registers “cool.” (If you know Florence at all and know that I’m totally wrong, please share! I’m sure the info would be helpful for any yogis who happen to be heading that way.)

I found one place in Florence with Ashtanga classes listed. And there is an It’s Yoga studio (It’s Yoga, created by Larry Schultz, is based on Ashtanga). But I couldn’t find anything online that appeared to be a traditional shala. I asked some of my ashtangi friends who travel quite a bit for any tips, and no one knew of a place to send me.

While there were a handful of yoga studios of various styles in the city — including Sivananda and Iyengar — it didn’t seem to me that there’s a high saturation of yoga for a city with a population of roughly 420,000. According to Ashtanga.com, there are two sanctioned Ashtanga teachers based in other towns in Tuscany — here and here. (Rome, where Lino Miele is based, would have been a different story. But we were in Rome for such a short time — a little more than half a day — that I didn’t get a chance to even consider an Ashtanga yoga class.)

I think it’s fair to say that travelers can expect to work a little bit to find yoga classes in Florence. It’s probably safer to bring your mat and plan on your hotel room being your studio away from home, so that if you strike out on finding a class you can drop in on, you’ll still get to practice.

 

 

Head for the hills

Another option: Head for the Tuscan hills with Tim Miller instead. A couple years ago, Tim Miller and his wife, Carol, began taking students to Tuscany in the fall for an Ashtanga yoga retreat with a restorative element. Check for info on the next retreat on Tim’s workshop page. I had actually hoped to make the trip this past October, but it wasn’t meant to be. Missing that trip made me that much more appreciative that we were able to come to Florence during the holiday season.

My most unyogic moment

Yoga isn’t just about stepping on a yoga mat and connecting breath to movement. The classic tradition of yoga views the practice as a science with eight limbs encompassing everything from ethical practices to meditation. Traveling can be a gauntlet of stimulation, good and bad, so it’s an interesting test of whether we’re able to be less reactive to the world.

I had a big fail of a yogic moment at the airport in Florence when an airport security officer demanded to search my carry-on and proceeded to take out the three boards made from olive wood. I had bought one for myself and one each for my sisters, and I was so excited by how much Tuscany had inspired me to start cooking together. This cutting board was the symbol of that. The airport official thought otherwise. After taking each one out and tearing off the protective wrapping paper, he informed me that these boards could be used as weapons and that I either had to check them or leave them there with him at the security checkpoint. I was devastated. And I was angry. I could use anything heavy to hurt someone — hell, my entire carry-on bag could be used to batter someone down, if that was my intention. We had obviously already checked out bags, and we needed this one as a carry-on. So I had to leave them there.

It’s just a material item, I know. You can’t take anything with you when you die, I know. But I was angry. I let my anger get the best of me for at least the next two hours.

I’m still upset, in fact. Maybe I’ll have greater capacity for detachment for our next trip.

>>In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

If you only read one response to the New York Times’ ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ piece…

…may I suggest that it be the one posted today by Eddie Stern?

Before we get to that, however, here’s a quick boilerplate for the roughly nine yoga practitioners out there who haven’t seen “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” the New York Times Magazine piece by William J. Broad — published today in the hard copy edition, and Jan. 5 online. (By the time the magazine hit newsstands and porches today, this story was already old news in the yoga blogging world, because reactions have been fired off steadily since the online posting of the article. So steadily, in fact, that if you do a Google search for “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” you get about 31,000 hits. If you narrow that field down by adding “Ashtanga,” you still get about 1,600 hits. And none of this takes into account all the comment threads ricocheting around Facebook over the past few days.)

Here’s a snippet of the original article, which is an excerpt from Broad’s soon-to-be-released book:

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, [profiled yoga teacher Glenn] Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, ‘they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,’ he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. ‘Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.’

Interesting responses include:

One response that seems to have particularly struck a chord with a range of ashtangis came from The Reluctant Ashtangi’s “Reading blogs can wreck your body.” The piece, which is well worth a read, says this in part:

Other things that Wreck Your Body:

– Hard Partying Wrecks Your Body (wassup, Charlie Sheen?!)

Food Wrecks Your Body

Tofu Wrecks Your Body (actually, this one just wrecks your brain, but what good is a body without a brain?)

Forward Head Posture Wrecks Your Body (with a nod oto the Alexander Method)

Alcohol Wrecks Your Body Or, as so eloquently expressed by The Smiths, “…past the pub that wrecks your body.” I’ll leave you on that glorious note. And, um, don’t dance or anything. That might wreck your body too.

 

The piece cooly ends with a YouTube clip of “The Queen is Dead.”

And then comes “How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga,” a post with the kind of clarity and flare that can only come from Eddie Stern, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York. Here’s a taste:

When there is a great potential for making money, quality is usually the first thing to be sacrificed. Fast food, anyone? It is unfortunate that this is exactly what we are facing now – yoga has been McDona-fied. It has been reduced from a practice that traditionally demanded dedication, discipline, sacrifice, humility, surrender, suffering, love, devotion, and rigorous self-investigation, to something that you can now learn to teach in a weekend. Or, more popularly, in a mere 200 hours you can become a bonafide, registered yoga instructor. 200 hours is spit. It is a joke. And it is a joke that is leading an entire tradition – that granted even in India was subject to ridicule – to an even greater harm. This is because we have an opportunity, in the West, to be leaders in the rising field of yoga, by bringing these transformative teachings to places where they will result in great good. Though it is true that this is already happening – in schools, prisons, hospitals, with veterans, and with everyday people who walk into a class off of the street – it is also true that a rotten apple can spoil the barrel, and this is what I fear is happening. And, it is a mighty big apple.

I miss the early days when I was first doing yoga in NYC, in the mid- to late 1980′s. The feeling of freshness, of being clean and free, of feeling that a whole, new world was opening in me. There were no products for sale, no fifty types of yoga mats, just a towel and some cut-off sweatpants to practice in, or a pair of white, cotton ‘yoga’ pants that I could buy on Bleecker St. for $5. I still feel that freshness when I practice, and I love that – but when I look around at what is happening with yoga in America, I can’t help but feel sad.

When I saw the title of Broad’s article, the first thing that came to mind was Ice Cube’s old hip-hop song ‘Check Yo’ Self’ (‘You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self’) – pretty good advice for the over-enthusiastic in yoga or any physical endeavor. I was going to post it, but it is so inappropriate, and the issue of injuries is too serious an issue; I will not make light of anyone’s pain. But, searching out Ice Cube did lead me down the dark path of youtube, where two hours later, I found myself still trolling through videos that fill me with a happy nostalgia for the rawness of youth – of early punk rock, and the passion and energy that was being expressed through so many amazing songs.

Sanskrit means refined, and many of the yogis of India were extremely elegant, in a simplicity-filled way. The rishis, who became the world’s first yogis, purposely left society to meditate in the forests, turning their backs on the mundanity and suffering of the world. They discovered something that ultimately can be of great benefit to us all, if we use it wisely.  This is quite the opposite of the rawness of music that I grew up with, like the Clash or Sex Pistols – but, still, listening to White Man (in Hammersmith Palais) still fills me with the same feeling of freedom I felt when I first heard it when I was probably about 14.  And who can argue with this lyric: “The new groups/ are not concerned/ with what there is to be learned/ they put on suits/ they think it’s funny/ turning rebellion into money”. I always loved that line, and now it just makes me think of Lululemon.

I’d write more, but my throat is on fire (rough return from my travels abroad), and I need to try to go back to bed. Just as well — you’re better off anyway leaving this blog and heading over to read the rest of what Eddie Stern has to say and see which YouTube video he ended his post with.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

 

Florence travel journal (part 2): Eating our way to culinary innocence

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 2: ‘A tavola non si invecchia.’(‘At the table, one does not age.’) On eating our way to culinary innocence

 

–>A tavola non si invecchia
–>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I’m already missing
–>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I wish I had tried
–>It’s the end of the meal as we know it, and I feel fine(!)
–>Catch up with Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

>>’A tavola non si invecchia‘<<

I was born in New Orleans, where it’s said that locals are already thinking about the next meal before finishing the current one. So I love that there’s an Italian saying that goes, “A tavola non si invecchia,” which translates to, “At the table, one does not age.” When done right, food fuels the soul. Food brings us familiarity and comfort when we need it, surprise and inspiration when we’re ready for it. When done wrong, food can be soul-sucking — reminders of what’s lacking not just in our personal lives, but what’s wrong with the society in which we live.

What was so wonderful about eating these long, leisurely meals in Florence was that we got to experience how food is community. How strangers who don’t speak the same language can laugh together over something happening in the restaurant. How tourists can get a glimpse, however uninformed, about a region’s history through a simple meal.

A McDonald's billboard near the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Needless to say, we didn't eat there.

In one short week in Italy, Scott and I enjoyed so many memorable meals. I think about our gastronomic journey as one that returned us to culinary innocence. As two people born and raised in America — a country that can, for the middle and upper classes at least, too easily be a land of excess and waste — we were reminded that abundance does not equal gluttony. Simple can be refined. Eating meat, when the animal in question was not as a matter of course raised and killed as part of an ugly and despicable industry, can feel joyful.

While we couldn’t take those meals back with us, we did take back with us the inspiration we felt while dining in Italy. Between the two of us, Scott is the only one who can actually put together a good meal. He’s an excellent griller, for instance. But left to his own devices, he too easily resorts to college-era habits of eating greasy, cardboard pizza. Most 11-year-olds probably have a better sense of how to work a kitchen than I do, and while I have good tendencies toward healthier foods, I also eat way too much in any given setting.

In any case, we’ve decided we are going to try to get ourselves into better dietary patterns. We’re excited to start trying to prepare meals together not as a chore, but as something to look forward to each week, much like our salsa dancing lessons. We’ll start with very, very simple dishes, such as cooking pasta and adding a couple dashes of white truffle oil, and going from there.

>>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I’m already missing<<

In restaurants around Florence, you have an antipasti (appetizer), followed by a primi piatti (first course, usually a pasta) and the secondi piatti, a second, usually meatier course (or fishier, depending on the region you’re in). Some places offer a vegetable with the main dish, and at others, you have to order a separate contorni (side). I always loved it when fried artichokes was on the menu as a side — Italians do beautiful, beautiful things with artichokes (carciofi). Then, of course, there’s dessert, such as cantucci with Vin Santo, followed by — if desired — espresso and perhaps a digestive liqueur (digestivo) such as limoncello, if you want sweet and refreshing, or grappa, if you want quite the opposite.

Here are five dishes I’m already missing.

Pappardelle di cinghiale

I. Love. Pappardelle.
I. Love. Pappardelle.
I. Love. Pappardelle.

It’s my favorite pasta of all time — topping even gnocchi, which is saying quite a lot. The first time I had pappardelle was, funny enough, in Miami, at an absolutely fantastic Italian restaurant (Hosteria Romana, if you are ever in the area). I loved pappardelle on first bite. (No matter what the cuisine, I like my noodles flat and wide. In Chinese cooking, I’ve preferred dishes with the big flat rice noodles for as long as I can remember.)

Unless I’m going to all the wrong joints, it’s rare to find pappardelle in the U.S. I bought some pappardelle back with me from Florence, though I know we won’t be having it di cinghiale, the traditional preparation with wild boar sauce.

>>Where I had my favorite pappardelle di cinghiale: Where didn’t I love pappardelle di cinghiale? But if I had to choose, I’d have to split it as a tie between: Buca Mario in Florence and Trattaoria del Pennello in Florence. And, although not made with wild boar meat and sauce, a special shout-out goes to Peperoncino in Florence, which didn’t have pappardelle di cinghiale on the menu but made a custom order of pappardelle for me.

Bistecca alla fiorentina, or a steak for a giant?

So there’s a special breed of cattle found in Tuscany called Chianina. They have distinctive long, white hair. Chianina make incredible bistecca alla fiorentina, which looks like a T-bone steak cut for a giant. I didn’t order it myself, but I tried it when Scott ordered it. It was simple and perfectly cooked — amazing.

>>Where I had my favorite: Buca Mario in Florence

Fagioli all’Uccelleto — only Tuscans can do beans like this

It sounds kind of unsexy, but the bean dishes offered by Tuscan restaurants are excellent. One of our guidebooks said Tuscans are nicknamed mangiafagioli, bean-eaters, because of their fondness for these beans. The SmarterFitter blog has an interesting take on — along with a good recipe for — Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero.

>>Where I had my favorite: Pangie’s in Florence. I wish I could remember the name of the actual antipasti, but Pangie’s lathered olive oil on a large piece of bread, topped the bread with a green that tasted like a cousin of spinach, and put the beans on top of all that. It probably doesn’t sound very good, but somehow all the ingredients come together to leave your taste buds with an unexpected and very welcome pop.

Crostini with porcini mushrooms (or really, anything al funghi)

I had a piece of out-of-this-world crostini (small rounds of toasted bread brushed with olive oil) topped with a delicate but intense spread I couldn’t even begin to describe. It was made from porcini mushrooms and if I could bottle that stuff and ship it to Michigan, I would in a heartbeat. Incredibly, I also had crostini with chicken liver pate that didn’t make me want to throw up. (I have a visceral reaction to how liver smells, and after having it once as a young child, I’ve never been willing to try anything with liver again — until now. Whatever these restaurants did to the liver pate to make it tolerable crostini — and perhaps even slightly enjoyable — I’ll never know.) People say Tuscan cuisine manages to make tripe — which is also found in Chinese cuisine, which is how I know I don’t like it — tolerable as well, by stewing it with tomatoes, sage and parmigiano cheese. Despite the reviews of Tuscan preparations of tripe, I still had zero interest in trying it.

>>Where I had my favorite crostini: Ciro & Sons in Florence

And so ends the search for the perfect tiramisu

About 10 years ago, I decided that I loved tiramisu enough that I would start a worldwide quest to find the best tiramisu. Since tiramisu is the most classic of Tuscan desserts — made of ladyfingers, mascarpone and coffee — it’s not surprising that in Tuscany, you don’t have to search too long for a gorgeous execution of tiramisu. I had two of the best expressions of this dessert that I’ve ever had, two nights in a row. One seemed to be a more traditional, homemade preparation. It had the perfect consistency and taste. The other seemed to put a modern twist on the dessert. I loved them both, and I’ll always think of those bites I enjoyed whenever I have my OK tiramisu in American restaurants.

>>Where I had my favorite tiramisu: Tie. Buca Mario in Florence and Ciro & Sons in Florence

I’m also missing pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese that’s aged for two months and has, to me, a sharp edge. And then there’s cantucci, a small, hard, almond cookie that’s the Tuscan version of biscotti. In Florence, many restaurants offer a dessert of cantucci and Vin Santo, a sweet wine you dip the cantucci into to soften it up so it’s perfect for consumption.

But where’s…

Are you wondering if I forgot about the gelato? Many people think Italy has the world’s best ice cream, and that within Italy, gelaterias in Florence do it better than anyone. I have to admit that I don’t love gelato! I really like it, but don’t go gaga over it.I know this is hard to believe, but I prefer high quality, creamy small-label ice cream choices in America, such as lavender ice cream from Jeni’s in Columbus, Ohio. My single favorite flavor of ice cream might be green tea cream.

We did stop by one shop near the Arno River for some gelato. I got hazelnut (Italians know their hazelnuts!), and it was delicious to be sure. But I didn’t really seek out the best gelato, so sorry, no recommendations. You’ll have to visit and find out for yourself.

Like some other European countries, dinner starts later in Italy — around 9 p.m. One of the many ways to out yourself as an American tourist is to head over to a restaurant at 7 p.m. for dinner. I also like to eat dinner pretty late, which runs counter to eating well in the United States unless you’re in New York or L.A. It’s always a treat to be in a place where late dining is the norm, so while not a specialty, I will also miss this aspect of Tuscan dining.

>>Top 5 Tuscan specialties I wish I had tried<<

In a shop near Ponte Vecchiowe picked up Tuscany at the Table, a great little book that talks about the history of dishes from Tuscan province and offers recipes from each locale. (I’d link it for you, but I looked the book up on Amazon, and don’t see it.) Of the many interesting tidbits I’ve learned from this book is that Tuscan bread is traditionally made without salt. That would explain why, if there was one thing we didn’t love in Tuscany, it was the bread. It seemed to lack some flavor. I had assumed this was because Tuscans viewed bread as a vehicle to sop up sauces. But this book explains that:

Olive oil reigns supreme in the dishes often accompanied by Tuscan home-style bread, strictly salt-free. The origin of this usage dates from the 12th-century, when Florence and Pisa struggled for supremacy. The Pisans closed their ports to the Florentines for the salt trade, and they responded merely by breaking bread that is ‘sciocco,’ without a grain of salt.      

Not surprisingly, the book has a whole chapter on wine and talks about how, beginning in the 15th century, the production of Chianti was governed by precise procedures dictated by the “Chianti League.” Panoramic wine tours are now offered along 14 routes of the “Strade el Vino.” There are the well-known reds of Chianti Classico, Morellino di Scansano, Bolgheri Sassicaia, Solaia, Tignanello and Brunello di Montalcino. Did you know this region produces white wines and roses? They include Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Bianco di Pitigliano, Val di Cornia and Rosado di Toscana Igt.

So, here are five Tuscan specialties mentioned in this book that I would have loved to have tried:

  • Marzolino — another type of sheep’s milk cheese
  • Budino di riso — sweets with a rice-pudding center and sugar on top
  • Baccaialata — Salted cod cut in strips, dressed with tomatoes, chopped onions, carrots, garlic, celery, pepper, olive oil and parsley, and baked
  • Topini (“little mice”) — A smaller variation of potato gnocchi
  • Gnochi mes’ci di castagne — Rectangular-shaped gnocchi made of chestnut flour, excellent dressed with olive oil and grated pecorino  

>>It’s the end of the meal as we know it, and I feel fine(!)<<

A major theme for me in 2011 was struggling with how to close the gap between wanting to consume healthier food and actually changing the way I eat. I have frequent discomfort most days of the week from acid reflux and a feeling of bloatedness.

In Florence, even when keeping with the local tradition of two- to four-hour meals and even while eating a ton of carbohydrates in the form of pasta, my acid reflux barely bothered me and my digestive complaints stayed mostly under control.

What happened?

My theories include:

    • We ate better food, period. Our very first dinner in Florence was at Buca Mario (which I highly recommend, if you ever go), a nice restaurant, where everything was homemade and the ingredients were fresh. It was then that I realized how odd it was, after a large meal, to feel clean as a whistle, digestively speaking.
    • The bigger the meal, the slower we ate, allowing for ample time to digest.
    • When we ate, we focused on the experience of eating. We weren’t at our desks working. We weren’t watching TV.
    • We were on vacation. No deadlines! No emails. I wasn’t stressed. I think this is huge. Even though food is my main concern right now, I feel as if stress contributes significantly to my acid reflux.)
    • I didn’t eat any processed foods. When we did eat cheaply and on the go, it was still something like a panini — something that, while the ingredients were hardly great, had been made earlier that day. (By the way, in Italy, if a restaurant offers something on the menu that’s been frozen before, this item has to be marked with an asterisk. How amazing is that? Can you imagine how many crappy restaurants here would have to star their entire menu?)
    • We were usually doing something — walking somewhere, on a train headed somewhere, looking at something, etc. The point being that we were usually engaged and therefore not in a position to snack. My biggest problem when I’m at the office all day is grazing. At home, I’m trying to do better, but there is definitely snacking going on.
    • I didn’t have eggs in the morning. Our hotel offered a lovely and free breakfast buffet. The mornings I stuck to croissants, meat, cheese and fruit, I felt fine. The one morning I had eggs, I did not feel so fine. I will have to continue to experiment with this one to see if cutting out eggs does indeed help me.

There are two that I consider truly inspirational when it comes to cooking. One is my ancestral home of Thailand, which I have been to and hope to return to some day. The other is Italy. I’m so grateful that I had the chance to visit Italia for the first time and bring back all these lessons from the dining tables there.

>>In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

 

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 1: Firenze, Italia as home base

–>Trip snapshot

–>Five sketches from Florence and Tuscany:

–>A word about the travel journal
–>Future posts in this series

>>TRIP SNAPSHOT<<

Some visitors to Italy fall in love with Venice. Others fulfill their dreams by making a pilgrimage to Rome. For me and my finance, Scott, the trip of a lifetime took us to Firenze, Italia, our home base for a seven-night visit that included New Year’s Eve. We walked and ate our way around Florence and left the city limits for a day to peek into some of the hill towns of Tuscany. Thanks to frecce alta velocita, Italy’s low-carbon-footprint and fantastically fast train line, we also got day-trip glimpses of cities to the north and south that capture so many imaginations.

Italy is a country we have independently longed to visit, and what better time than half a year before our wedding, after which time it’ll be…well, time to settle down. This was our chance to make sure we would never have to say, “If only we had…” It was our honeymoon before the honeymoon — a chance to revel in the kinds of culinary beauty and artistic genius that only Italy can offer, and an opportunity to take some of that inspiration back with us to deepen the hues through which we view the world.

Scott and I unloaded our suitcases not too long ago — we’re back home later than scheduled, thanks to a delayed departure in Florence, a near missed connection in Amsterdam and unfavorable headwinds back across the Atlantic. But of course we’re already asking ourselves if we’ll ever return. We hope so. To help our odds, before we left Florence, we paid homage to a popular bronze statue of a wild boar and did as many visitors do — slipped a coin into the mouth of the cinghiale, rubbed its snout and made a wish to return to the city that historically was the cradle of Renaissance arts and personally has become a cradle of new shared memories.

I’m starting this travel series with five sketches from our week there. Check back for future blog posts that will include:

>>Five sketches about Florence and Tuscany<<

463 STEPS
Not for the weak of heart (physically or romantically): What a cathedral whose dome became the model for Renaissance domes can teach us about confidence and faith

On our very last evening in Florence, we capped off our trip by climbing the 463 steps up to the cupola of Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), Florence’s stunning Gothic cathedral. What makes this cathedral remarkable is not just that the dome, which took 14 years to build, was the first Renaissance dome, or that it was the largest since Rome’s Pantheon. What’s incredible to me is the story that’s told about the cathedral — that it was originally constructed with a gaping hole where the dome would go, because no one quite knew how to create a dome that could span that space. Can you imagine the immovable belief that things will all work out? And indeed, things did work out, because architect Filippo Brunelleschi came up with an ingenious double shell construction in which the skeleton of a dome was filled in by interlocking bricks fashioned together in a herringbone pattern. This created a dome that relied on its own support as it grew slowly upwards.

Not surprisingly, the 463-step trek up is winding, steep and claustrophobic (there are several passes so narrow you get pretty intimate with tourists making the return journey), and there’s really not much of a warning about any of that when you slide over 8 euros (about $11) for the entrance ticket. I would have expected an impossible-to-miss notice for anyone who is pregnant or has a heart condition, but perhaps that is the overly cautious American in me.

Neither the guidebooks nor Duomo officials adequately prepare you for the trip up — or for the view at the pinnacle. We arrived around 6 p.m. on a perfectly clear evening and marveled at the Campanile, the 270-foot bell tower designed by Giotto. Walking around, we could see the Accademia, where David — created by Michelangelo Buonarroti when he was just 26 — is showcased. Here were all the avenues lined with holiday lights and over there was the Uffrizi Gallery, where you can find Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We could easily see Santa Croce Church, famous for housing the tombs of Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo. We slipped one euro into the binocular stand and looked with disbelief into the windows of the rooftop restaurant where we had enjoyed our divine New Year’s Eve dinner a couple nights before.

After the initial shock of this perfect view, it seemed most couples realized the romance of the winds and the perch, and shared quick kisses or longer expressions of their gratitude for each other.

>>IF YOU GO. We started the climb about an hour before the last entry, and we’re pretty sure we got lucky with the best possible conditions anyone could have walking up. Florence’s high season is April though October, although July and August can be unbearably hot. It must be a snail’s pace up to the top when the crowds are in town, and I’m sure temperatures rise accordingly in those narrow corridors. After this trip, Scott and I are sure we prefer traveling during a destination’s off season, even if it means cooler temperatures and higher chances of some closures. No matter what the season, if you go, take into consideration whether you want a daytime or nighttime cityscape, and get in line very early in the day or late in the evening. Make sure you’re hydrated going up (that’s the yoga teacher in me), but not so much so that you’ll need to use the bathroom any time soon.

>>LESSONS FROM THE CLIMB. Rick Steves describes the Duomo climb in his guidebook as “463 plunges on a Renaissance StairMaster,” but the journey reminded me less of exercise and more of a journey of faith that all these stairs were leading somewhere worthwhile. You’re placing your feet on each stony step, unable to see ahead and cognizant of the futility in looking back. I had this same type of feeling many times during Hilltop Yoga’s tough 300-hour yoga teacher training program, when I was wondering whether I should stop the emotional and physical gauntlet — a good yoga teacher training program provokes some heavy and often unwanted self-reflection — and turn around. But after the formal program ended and I taught my first Ashtanga class — after I saw the practice of yoga from that vantage point — I knew it had been the right journey.

If you’re ever in Florence, take the climb up, and see what the journey evokes for you.

WHO NEEDS A CAPPUCCINO
Try the cioccolata calda instead

Americans do not know how to appreciate hot chocolate. Italians do. People always talk about Italy and the espresso and cappuccino available there. But what about the hot chocolate? The first time I ordered a cioccolata calda I looked around to see if anyone else was drinking the same thing, and whether they were pouring milk or something in the cup to cut it. I couldn’t accept the fact that the beautifully thick, smooth molten chocolate inside this cup was mine to enjoy as is. What do Italians do when they visit the United States and have their first cup of hot chocolate? Crying seems like an appropriate response. I might not mind winter in Michigan so much if we had this kind of creamy expression of warmth. (OK, I’d probably still mind just as much, but it would at least be a little something to look forward to on the coldest days.)

>>IF YOU GO. Try cioccolata calda in Siena at the Caffe A. Nannini. And by the way, about cappuccinos — for Italians, it’s a breakfast drink. Restaurants will serve it all day if that’s what tourists want, but if you want to do as the locals do, only order this frothy goodness in the morning.

>>LESSONS FROM THE SIPS. Too often, I try to split the difference. In my brief visit, I found that Italian culture fosters making a commitment — whether it’s heavy hot chocolate or a three-hour dinner — and that, in turn, can allow you to live more fully in the moment.  

WILD FOR WILD BOAR
Giving something a (second, third, fourth…) chance

Cinghiale (cheeng-GAH-lay), wild boar, is a noted Tuscan specialty. I’ve never loved the other white meat (though as you know, I’m having issues with the main white meat these days), but when I paid a visit to Memphis a couple of years ago and had ribs down there, I understood, for the first time, the appeal of ribs. Following in the same spirit, I gained a new appreciation in Florence for prosciutto (cured ham), salami and cinghiale. When done right, these meats have a refined and comforting flavor. My single favorite dish from the entire trip (more on that in the next blog post) was pappardelle di cinghiale, wild boar with Tuscany’s extremely wide, flat ribbons of pasta.

>>IF YOU GO. Unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian, don’t be afraid to try cingahle in a few of the various forms available — in pasta, as salami, as a main dish or in a stew. If you hate it, at least you’ll know you gave it all the chances it deserved.

>>LESSONS FROM THE BITES OF BOAR. Location, location, location. I’ve learned that about so many things now — that you risk missing out on something pretty cool if you are too quick to write something off when you haven’t tried it in the right context.

THE TOWN OF SIENA IS DELIGHTFUL 
Who wants prenup?

Drive 35 miles south of Florence and you’ll hit Siena, Florence’s historic archrival and interestingly the first European city to ban automobile traffic from its main square. Siena is, in a word, delightful. An intense horse race called Palio di Siena is held twice every year on the grounds of Il Campo, the town center.

Our local tour guide explained that the city is comprised of 17 neighborhoods, or contradas. It sounds as intensely tribal as a city can get. Each contrada has its own church and fountain (and sometimes museum too), along with its own flag, a mascot (our tour guide made sure we knew she was from the rhinoceros group) and a rival neighborhood. Each neighborhood has a horse that, if chosen by lottery (the town center can only accommodate 10 horses out of the 17), runs the Palio di Siena. It’s a bareback race, and the first horse to cross the finish line — with or without a jockey still hanging on — wins.

Laughing, our tour guide also explained that two people from different neighborhoods who get married will sometimes determine their children’s allegiances in a prenuptial agreement. That sounds to me like a Michigan State University fan and a University of Michigan fan signing a prenup determining if the kids will wear blue or green. Incredible.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t breeze through town like a tourist, reading the guidebook and looking at buildings and architecture. You have to talk to local residents to realize why this town sparkles. I know that’s true of pretty much any place worth traveling to, but it’s so true here.

>>LESSONS FROM THE TOWN. That I need to go back to spend more time there.

 CARING ABOUT CARBON FOOTPRINTS
That’s the ticket

Floating around one of our guidebooks as a bookmark is my Venice fast train ticket. Right on the ticket there’s a number — 26 Kg — that’s confusing if you’re not used to taking these trains. It turns out this number indicates the estimated amount of CO2 saved by taking this particular trip you’ve just paid 43 euros for. The trip we took to Rome — also at 43 euros each way for second class — saved 32 Kg of CO2 each way. What a sensible idea — telling people in concrete terms how the decisions they are making right now are making a difference right now.

I also learned on this trip that Smart cars — which as you can image are ubiquitous in this part of the world — can also park perpendicular to the curb, as seen here:

People say Italian drivers are crazy. After this trip, I see why and while I agree, I’d add that they are crazy skilled. It’s beyond me how people can drive even small cars through some of these narrow streets, navigate confusing city-center traffic-free zones, snake their way into a too-small parking spot, not kill anyone along the way, and keep their cool the whole time.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t rent a car. Period. Let professionals (taxi drivers, bus drivers and train conductors) get you from point A to point B.

>>LESSONS FROM THE RIDES. Every single trip I’ve made to Europe (I’m up to four now) has underscored how much farther the U.S. could be when it comes to public transportation. The technology is there — we just have to care enough to put the policies into place that would make it happen.

>>A word about the travel journal<<

I’ve long wanted to follow up my various trips with blog posts that offer something of a yoga-themed travel journal, but it simply hasn’t happened, mostly due to time constraints, I suppose. On this trip, I spent seven hours on fast trains getting to and from Venice and Rome, and nearly 20 hours on planes to and from Florence — so I had time to start in on some blog posts before returning home. I hope that with this post, I’ll start to make it a point to do similar types of guides when I travel — some heavier on yoga and others, like this one, much less so.

If you’ve been to this region, please share your experiences and tips in the comments! I would love to hear about your trips, whether yoga-related or not.

Ciao, till the next post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. 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.

Buon 2012

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Buon anno from Firenze, Italia. We arrived in Florence on Wednesday, and it’s hard to believe that last night, we rang in the new year in this vibrant city. We have two full days left and I intend to soak up as much as I can during that time. On the plane ride back across the Atlantic, I’ll start writing up a blog post about some of the tastes, sights and sounds from the trip. For one thing, I have to emote about pappardelle al cinghiale, bistecca fiorentina and porcini anything.

20120101-235142.jpg In the meantime, a short note to say that my first practice of the year was in my hotel room — a quiet practice punctured only by the bells of Santa Maria Novella, the church nearby. I’ve practiced yoga in a lot of surreal spaces — perhaps most notably in the inner sanctum of a Masonic lodge in Vancouver. No matter where I am, it’s fair to say I never feel far from a feeling of gratitude that I have access to this life-altering practice. The farther from home I am, the more I’m reminded of the portability and flexibility of the eight limbs of yoga.

How was your first practice of the year?

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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’?

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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.

 

What’s that? A Groupon for Ashtanga Yoga?

Ashtanga Michigan Groupon
(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)

I’ve been out of town for work, so this is being posted a day later than I would have liked. A friend yesterday sent me the latest Groupon Detroit deal. I’m glad she did, since I live about 90 minutes west of Detroit, so I’m not as in tune with the deals there. The Groupon is for Ashtanga Michigan, a traditional shala in the town of Royal Oak.

 

As of when I’m posting this, there is still one day and more than eight hours left to snag the deal:

  • For $25, you get 5 group yoga classes (a $75 value).
  • For $39, you get 10 group yoga classes (a $150 value).
  • For $59, you get 2 private yoga sessions with Matthew Darling (a $160 value).

At this point, yoga studios around the country seem to be very comfortable joining hair salons and massage therapists in going the Groupon route, but I think it’s still rare to see an Ashtanga-specific deal.

By the way, Ashtanga Michigan recently redesigned its website.

© 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.

You say tomato, I say ‘tomahto,’ you say swan, I say…pigeon? Does it matter what the posture is called?

This past weekend, my sisters and I took a class taught by a teacher trained in the TriYoga tradition. It was a much-needed post-Thanksgiving flow. I’ve never taken a TriYoga class before, though, so it took some getting used to to hear adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) referred to instead as “mountain pose.” Or to be guided into what feels like pigeon pose and be told it’s swan. Uttanasana (standing forward fold) was cued as “Earth touch.”

I didn’t remember ever hearing about TriYoga before that class, so I hopped on my iPhone on the ride back from the yoga studio and learned that, according to TriYoga.com, TriYoga began this way:

On January 5, 1980, as Kali Ray led a group in meditation, she shared a concentration technique of energy rising up the spine. As soon as the meditation began, kriyavati siddhi awakened within her. At that moment, students witnessed her flow of asana, pranayama and mudra. This later was to become known as the birth of TriYoga. Moved by the powerful energy and beauty of these flows, students asked that she teach what they had witnessed. In this way, Kaliji began to teach TriYoga, which arose as did the ancient yoga, from the continuing flow of kriyavati. Kriyavati, as defined in Sanskrit texts, is kundalini manifesting on the plane of hatha yoga.

I also learned about TriYoga Prasara (TriYoga Flows):

TriYoga’s hatha yoga method, TriYoga Prasara or TriYoga Flows, integrates posture, breath and focus that is asana, pranayama and mudra. The inspiration and guidance for the TriYoga Flows comes from yogini Kaliji’s direct experience of kriyavati. This inner prana flow has given the knowledge to develop the systematic and complete TriYoga method. The evolution of TriYoga Flows continues to be guided by kriyavati.

If you are curious, you can watch videos of TriYoga Flows or see this discussion of a sequence.

Yoga Chicago covered Kali Ray’s visit to Chicago in 2010:

Kaliji brought three TriYoga teachers to help us, and we all received lots of personal attention. They began by demonstrating TriYoga’s graceful, tai-chi-like movements, which had them effortlessly flowing in and out of poses ranging from the easy to the most advanced. ‘There’s a feeling of relaxation in action,’ Kaliji explained. ‘Asana is being used as a tool of concentration. You are never losing awareness. Each movement is equally important.’

Read the full Yoga Chicago article it here.

One of the most interesting parts of the sequence for me involved doing a breathing method — kapalabhati pranayama — while in a standing pose (trikonasana). In power yoga classes, my teachers will sometimes have us do bhastrika pranayama in a seated lotus, but doing a fiery breath in a standing pose was a new experience for me.

There are definite differences in postures of the same name between the Ashtanga system and the poses I see in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and it always fascinates me why one school of yoga settles on a certain approach (parighasana in the style of Light on Yoga and parighasana in the Ashtanga style — gate pose — come to mind).

A posture’s name shouldn’t matter, right? What’s important is a posture’s design and how someone experiences it. I can’t help but wonder, however, if we sometimes initially make a different connection to a pose depending on the posture name. Is it easier to feeling more grounded when you have four points of connection to the mat if you know you’re in mountain pose versus downward-facing dog? Do you lose some of the suppleness of down dog if you call it mountain? What do you think?

I’ll let Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald take it from here:

(Illustration credit: By Michael Renner via Flickr Creative Commons license)  

© 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.)

 

 

 

End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice

It’s a bumpy plane ride back to Michigan–so bumpy they’ve had to discontinue the beverage service. I really wanted my ginger ale, but I guess I’ll have to be content with observing my sensation of thirst rather than observing the sensation of that thirst being satiated. It should be a little easier to do now that I’ve finished reading The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman, which dwells quite a bit on the process of, and benefits of, making room for clear observation rather than seeing everything through the prism of preconceived ideals.

On the way to California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, I blogged about Freeman’s story about the misguided man digging his wells. On the flight back, I want to touch on one paragraph in the book that speaks to how to free yourself from “the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is.”

What makes this topic particularly interesting to me right now is thinking about what the process of unhooking ideals from experiences might say about the possibility of doing the same for other aspects of our lives–from our body image to our careers to our most intimate relationships.

In “Cutting Through Fundamentalism,” the last chapter of the book, Freeman writes:

Practicing yoga is not always easy. Sometimes the biggest difficulty is arranging a time to do it: starting the session of practice. But if you can trick yourself into just beginning, it often works out. If you have arranged a time to practice but do not really feel like practicing, the trick is to convince yourself to simply stand up in a samasthitih, to take three breaths, thinking that you will allow yourself to go off and do something else after that simple ritual. Then after standing in samasthitih, it often turns out that the idea of taking a big inhale, raising your arms and doing half of a sun salutation is alluring. Having done that, one full sun salutation before quitting may seem reasonable. Soon you may find yourself doing two, and then three sun salutations; and then all of a sudden, you are in the groove and the practice continues. (p. 203)

First off, I think this is true of anything–hitting the gym, doing exercise videos at home, learning how to play an instrument, and on and on.

A few years ago, before I started a more regular yoga practice, I used to let my car decide if I went to class after work or not. By that I mean that I usually *wanted* to go to class after work, but often I didn’t *feel* like going to work. Usually, it was because I was so drained (it was a very taxing job) that even though I knew I would feel better after moving my body in coordination with my breath for 90 minutes, I also knew I would feel better if I simply went home and collapsed. But as time went on, my car pointed me in the direction of the yoga studio more and more consistently, to a point where it was routine to go to studio after work, even if I didn’t feel like it.

One reason the practice can be difficult is that the mind is a very strict taskmaster, and it often creates images of what practice is or it should be. The parameters your own mind sets for the practice may erode the foundation of the practice itself; if you cannot do a ‘good’ practice, why practice at all? (p. 203)

Once I started going to the power yoga studio two or three, then four or five times a week consistently, I knew the next phase of my practice journey would be to try to establish a home morning Ashtanga practice. A big hang-up there was that I hated how my body felt practicing in the morning–my muscles felt ice cold, for one. That first uttanasana (standing forward fold) was always awful. On the flip side, my mind wasn’t as cluttered as it would get in the evening after work, which meant I felt I had less mental chatter to try to quiet down–again, less motivation to practice in the morning. I sort of thought I should save practicing for when my body and my mind appreciated it more.

You may think to yourself that if you are going to sit in meditation, you must sit for forty-five minutes. If you are going to practice pranayama, you should practice it for one hour, and that if you are going to practice asana, two hours is the minimum. When, in fact, if you were to do any of these practices with true concentration even for two seconds, you would open up the core of the body and have remarkable insight and a sense of freedom–particularly a sense of release from the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is. Again, we run into the notion of drawing a circle (defining the parameters of our practice) and erasing that circle (having mercy on ourselves if we cannot meet the standards we set for ourselves). For beginning students, allowing some leeway in some of the parameters we set for ourselves about the structure and consistency of our practice can be the golden ticket to jump-start a routine of practice that, once it is going, automatically draws you back day after day, year after year. (p. 204)

As I’ve chronicled over the past few weeks, I finally, a few short months ago, started a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice (not a moment too soon either, considering I took my first Ashtanga class around 1999 or 2000 and have loved it since). I was doing it for the discipline more than anything else. I’m experienced enough now (read: old! :-) ) to know that a guaranteed way to fail would be to say that if I couldn’t practice for at least 90 minutes, I wouldn’t start to practice. On most days, that means I practice for an hour. Once or twice a week, I get nearly two hours. Maybe once a week, I might get as little as 50 minutes. But as I’ve said in recent blog posts, I don’t beat myself up for it.

This has meant that since August, I have slowly but surely started to untether the act of practicing from the feeling of practicing. I no longer turn off my alarm after hitting snooze a couple of times and tell myself that despite my best intentions, I won’t be getting up to practice because how good could that practice feel if I’m this tired, if it’s this cold, and if I have such little time. I no longer step on my mat at 6:30 a.m. thinking, “Well, this won’t feel very good physically, which means it won’t feel as beneficial mentally or emotionally.” I just get on my mat and start.

It is what it is–and for that, I have started to realize that if there is any tethering, it should be to connect the act of practicing with the feeling of contentment and gratitude, no matter what kinds of sensations arise in the muscles, joints and everything else.

Getting back to what prompted Freeman to dive into this point, it’s an interesting exercise to think about what other games we have constructed in our mind of what ____ (fill in the blank: acceptable physique, ideal spouse, etc.) is–and how our practice might be able to free us from it.

(Photo credit: Tether ball by gzap 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.)

 

A different kind of black Friday: How yoga therapy can be used to help treat depression

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Enjoying the post-Thanksgiving food high, I’m with my family in San Jose. And I see that the Mercury News ran a story the other day saying that here in Santa Clara county, someone commits suicide on average every three days. Think about that — every 72 hours.

Black Friday officially kicks off the winter holiday season — a time of year designed to be full of family, friends and celebration. For those who live with clinical depression, though, it can be one of the toughest times to go through.

In high school, I worked on a teen hotline where, in theory, anyone contemplating suicide could call (gratefully, I was never on the other end of one of those calls). Depression has profoundly affected the life course of people I care deeply about. If there’s one societal change I have long wanted to contributed to, it is that, in my own way, one conversation at a time, I want people to understand that depression is not simply being sad. Or feeling really, really down. It is chemical. Deeply physiological. You don’t just buck up to get yourself out of depression. You don’t just will yourself out. Would you tell someone living with a heart condition to just get over it? True clinical depression should be considered with the same social regard as other serious threats to health.

Which brings me to yoga, and what yoga can do. The new issue of Yoga International has a wonderful piece by Gary Kraftsow:

Depression tends to hit us on every level of our being, often all at once, which makes yoga the perfect antidote for the physical ramifications, mood swings, thoughts, and behaviors that it engenders. From a physiological perspective, depression affects the entire body, including the digestive, respiratory, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. Yoga therapy’s main impact on our physiology is via the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the ANS. Depression creates a state of sympathetic/parasympathetic disregulation, which further impacts how we feel, what we think about, and how we behave.

The sympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the fight-flight-or-freeze response and is activated when we perceive danger. The parasympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the rest-and-digest or rest-and-repose response and is activated when we are at rest.

Although some types of depression include sympathetic activation (feelings of agitation or anxiety), when people become depressed, they most often experience a state of sympathetic suppression. They may have physiological symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, and/or decreased libido or sense of pleasure.

Practicing asanas with adapted breathing, pranayama techniques, and guided relaxation will help to balance the nervous system. For example, doing standing postures and backbends with an emphasis on movement—during which you progressively lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation and gently hold the breath at the end of the inhalation—will activate the sympathetic response and energize the system.

Even if you don’t know anyone right now with depression, I highly recommend reading the entire article to get a better sense of how yoga can work with depression. Kraftsow also offers a unique practice sequence. And because I’m a writer by trade, I will also say–better even than consuming online, buy the winter 2011-2012 issue of Yoga International and support this kind of quality yoga content (versus so much of the vacuous, fluffy and celebrity-driven stuff you can find these days).

(Photo credit: gogoloopie’s Flickr stream)

© 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.

Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

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I have this bad habit of buying plane tickets in the middle of the night when I’m tired and only half-alert (part of the multitasking reality of my life) and not looking at the itinerary again until the morning of departure. I’m on a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles right now, and because I didn’t pay enough attention to the ticket I bought, I am only now realizing that (1) I’ll be connecting at LAX with a really short stopover in which I have to change not just planes but airlines entirely–a pretty inadvisable thing to do during the heavy Thanksgiving holiday weekend traveling period and (2) this flight is a lot longer than I expected (we’re on our second beverage service already).

The good news is that I’ve had time to read the first half of Richard Freeman’s The Mirror of Yoga: Awakening the Intelligence of Body and Mind. I think a smart, well-written book is an extremely fruitful way to fulfill the 1 percent of Pattabhi Jois’ “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” advice. A few favorites are B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Life and Guruji (although admittedly, I have only bounced around in Guruji,waiting for that international flight when I can have an uninterrupted period of time to start reading in earnest).

I’m enjoying Freeman’s as well. Where Light on Life is breezy (not to be confused with light), The Mirror of Yoga is heady, intellectual. Perhaps they are serve as good counterposes to each other.

Freeman writes that the purpose of The Mirror of Yoga isn’t to make the reader a “premature eclectic” or an “armchair enlightened being.” Its aim–obviously–isn’t to add confusion:

Instead it is to allow us to slow down a bit so that we can delve deeply into the subject rather than skidding along the surface side to side, from one school back to another. We are aiming at the core of the teachings. By sticking with it and going deeply, we find that the jewel at the heart of every valid school is that we are eventually invited to face ourselves just as we face reality. (p. 9)

Freeman then dives into the story — the allegory, really — of the man digging a well.

He would begin digging down and after five or six feet of digging, which is very hard work, he would find no water, and so he would climb out of the little hole he had made, move twenty feet over, and dig another hole for his well. But after digging about six feet down, he would give up again, move twenty feet in another direction and start digging again. This went on, and on, and on, and he never found water. So it is with the relentless ego pursuing yoga, seeking ornaments for an improved self-image and new ways of feeling better, but avoiding the true facts of life.

When the school or practice becomes difficult–which is precisely the entry point into reality–it is at this crisis point that you really have to drop your pretenses and keep digging deeper into the experience. However, all too often, it is right at this juncture that we tend to give up the practice.

We move on to a ‘better’ teacher or a ‘more interesting’ school, rather than sticking with it and investigating the inner work that is the purpose of the school and the teachings in the first place. (p. 9)

Much has been written in the Ashtanga blogging community about a recent New York Times essay in the Fashion & Style section by a purportedly formerly “addicted” (to the practice) ashtangi who found, after a decade of practicing Ashtanga, that personal training performed better at the task of shedding pounds than her practice had.

The writer, Deborah Schoeneman, seems to relish admitting that she initially lied to her L.A. yoga instructor about why she wasn’t attending practices. These days, she only practices yoga once a week — “for meditation, stretching and community.”

I guess in terms of this particular personal tale, I’m not terribly interested in the science of which method helps you shed more pounds. (For the record, I would have no problem believing that personal training, which is focused on burning calories and building muscles, drops more weight faster–but that’s not really the point of a yoga practice anyway.)

What interests me more is why the writer made that move when she did. Ten years is a long time. Why not after five years? Even seven? She mentions a few important developments in her life–a new career (a writer in Hollywood), a return to a life of wining and dining, an engagement and an upcoming wedding.

Was it that a juncture had been reached, and it had come time to start digging deeper?

In any case, back to the book. I’m looking forward to the second half. And at the rate this flight feels like it’s going, I might get through it by the time I see my family this evening.

(Photo credit: foamcow’s Flickr stream)

© 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.

Tapas before turkey. Tristana before tryptophan! And watch out for Rahu.

I’m pretty excited that Thanksgiving falls on a new moon day, which means it’s a day of rest. But let’s face it, even if it wasn’t a rest day, there are so many distractions and so many logistical inconveniences (like, traveling) that can make getting to the mat a challenge.

I think practicing the day before a holiday is critical. Tapas before turkey, I told my students today. Tristana before tryptophan! Hilaire Lockwood, the owner of Hilltop Yoga, will tell her students to get to the studio just before July Fourth or New Year’s Eve by simply saying, “Detox before you retox.”

Tim Miller of the Ashtanga Yoga Center of course offers an astrological perspective to the holiday in his most recent blog post. He talks about Rahu, the North Node of the Moon, known as the mighty and naughty child of Maya, Goddess of Illusion, who does his best to plunge any area of life he controls into chaos by taking us off our dharmic path and tempting us to veer off into self-destruction and insatiable desire to taste, achieve, and conquer.”

Tim continues:

When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, Rahu will be center stage, stimulating our desires for food and drink and possibly to dominate the conversation. Typically, Rahu teaches us through our excesses. After we eat or drink or talk too much we don’t feel so good. We realize that this is not the path to fulfillment, although, at the time, it may have been quite enjoyable. We find the edge by going over the edge. If you find that you get gobbled up by Rahu on Thanksgiving, don’t be too hard on yourself—there’s always yoga class on Friday.

I guess what all this means is that bookending your holidays with yoga might help you enjoy the celebrations a little more — either because you had enough self-control to find the edge without going over, or because you did go over the edge and need to climb back up to the ledge.

My youngest sister and my brother-in-law have already started cooking our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t wait to take that first bite. By this time tomorrow night, if I’m thinking, “Rahu: 1. Rose: 0” — well, I’ll be giving thanks for my next yoga practice. And if the win-loss is flipped, then I’ll have to give thanks for my last practice.

(Photo credit: “Thai demon god Rahu snacking on the moon” via kk+’s Flickr stream.)

© 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.

Indignation as the kindling for practice

I’m exhausted and would love to go to bed, even though it’s not even 9 p.m. It might have to do with how I woke up suddenly at 5:30 this morning and was unable to fall back asleep because my mind immediately went to something I’ve been indignant about for a couple weeks now (a decision someone else made that directly affects me). I got up and inadvisably looked at my gmail inbox, where I saw an email about the violence levied against non-violent student Occupy protesters at U.C. Davis, sent on behalf of University of California President Mark Yudof. That made me even more indignant.

Needless to say, I was pretty heated by the time I got to the mat. And you know what? it was a lovely practice. In recent posts I’ve complained about how I have a hard time feeling warm enough when I practice at home, especially in the mornings. Well, my indignation seemed to be the kindling I needed today. I burned away thought after thought I don’t want or need. If you study the yogic system, this was my agni in action, right? My sacred fire. Tim Miller says one application of bandhas — the energy locks rooted between the tailbone and the navel — is taking the waste (toxins, impurities) to the incinerator. I love that image.

But I didn’t burn it all away this morning (I am human). So I guess I’ll be back on the mat again tomorrow.

P.S. — My kindling this morning was all mental — emotional reactions to external events. But there’s also a physical aspect you can think about from this perspective. At a recent workshop in Chicago, Tim brought up asanas — our yoga postures — and the friction and resistance we meet when in them. “We should be thankful for our own resistance,” Tim said, “because it creates the fuel for our sacred fire.”

© 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 image on the back of the cereal box

I love Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal — something about the crunchiness and the simplicity (and it’s got antioxidants, so what’s not to love?). But the back of the cereal box drives me a little crazy. Just a little. Because the cereal box sits on top of my fridge, I see it nearly every time I’m in the kitchen. What drives me just a little crazy is that the woman pictured on the back is totally mailing in her virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) pose. Warrior 2, which can be viewed as reflecting a warrior drawing a sword, is such a beautifully strong pose. While this model looks like she’s enjoying it enough, I want her to engage her energy locks and dig into that pose to really feel the challenge and benefits of it.

I mean, you don’t need to be David Swenson, climbing up rock formations to express your inner warrior, but…well, as Tim Miller likes to tease in his yoga classes, how about trying again — with feeling this time.

Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. This is not something I would admit to a non-yogi crowd. :-)

© 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 New York Times Magazine wants to help you become a morning person

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been soaking up advice on how to become a morning person, even though, as you may remember from a recent blog post written from a hotel room, my feeling on mornings dovetails with Neil Gaiman‘s line:

Right. I was up at 6:00am this morning, and I have to be up at 5:00am tomorrow, and I am not a morning person (in much the same way that the stars are not fruit-bats) so I think it best if I simply stop writing just like

(yep, Gaiman’s 2004 blot post just ends there).

But I seeing as how it’s nearly 11 p.m. as I start this post, I better start getting to the point. Today’s New York Times Magazine features an article in the “Well” column called “