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

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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:

© 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: 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.

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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

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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.

 

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)

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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 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.

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.

 

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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.)

 

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 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 “So you think you can be a morning person?”

Like most creatures on earth, humans come equipped with a circadian clock, a roughly 24-hour internal timer that keeps our sleep patterns in sync with our planet. At least until genetics, age and our personal habits get in the way. Even though the average adult needs eight hours of sleep per night, there are ‘shortsleepers,’ who need far less, and morning people, who, research shows, often come from families of other morning people. Then there’s the rest of us, who rely on alarm clocks.

For those who fantasize about greeting the dawn, there is hope. Sleep experts say that with a little discipline (well, actually, a lot of discipline), most people can reset their circadian clocks. But it’s not as simple as forcing yourself to go to bed earlier (you can’t make a wide-awake brain sleep). It requires inducing a sort of jet lag without leaving your time zone. And sticking it out until your body clock resets itself. And then not resetting it again.

Shortsleeper, huh? In my book, that’s someone who can get by on seven hours of sleep — maybe six and a half. Left to my own devices — as in, how long I will sleep if I don’t have to be up for anything — I will get up after nine or 10 hours of sleep. I am not kidding. (I might average something like six or seven hours of sleep a night during non-crazy periods of my life, less if my schedule is seriously jammed.)

 

The article even comes with a quiz. Here’s the sixth question:

 

If there is a specific time at which you have to get up in the morning, to what extent are you dependent on being woken up by an alarm clock?

 

Again, I kid you not, I set three alarms to get up any given morning. Three. I think that makes me “very dependent.”

Perhaps the part I found most interesting was the part about light:

…you can facilitate the transition [of getting up incrementally earlier every day] by avoiding extra light exposure from computers or televisions as you near bedtime. (The light from a computer screen or an iPad has roughly the same effect as the sun.) ‘Light has a very privileged relationship with our brain,’ says Dr. Jeffrey M. Ellenbogen, chief of sleep medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. While most sensory information is ‘processed’ by the thalamus before being sent on its way, Ellenbogen says, light goes directly to the circadian system.

It’s still pitch dark outside when I wake up for a morning Ashtanga practice. Does this mean I can stare into my iPad as soon as I slam the alarm clock one last time in order to simulate throwing open the curtains to see the glow of a rising sun? I’m willing to try it.

As I referenced in a recent blog post, this AY:A2 post also has some good advice for getting up, including jumping into a hot shower. In the coldest months of our Michigan winters, I will surely rely on this.

That said, I’ve been managing, for the past few weeks anyway, to stick to a 6:30 a.m. practice on workdays. Ashtanga — the elixir for all ailments, including that genetic one of being born a night owl.

(Photo credit: “World Alarm Clock – Grove Passage, London” via bobaliciouslondon’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.


Hey, how did that gluten-free ginger molasses cookie get into my shopping cart?

After seven months of procrastinating, I finally went in today to get blood work determining if I’m sensitive to gluten. Based on my symptoms — feeling bloated much of the time, for one — my doctor thinks I might be.

I think I might be too, which is probably why I’ve avoided these tests for so long.

Don’t touch that
Over the past few years, the list of Things I Should Not Ingest seems to have grown quite long. First came an endoscopy determining that my acid reflux was intense enough to pay some serious attention. I was prescribed Nexium and told to cut out three things from my diet: coffee, caffeine and chocolate. I cut out none of the three, although I rarely drink any soda these days and my chocolate consumption is occasional. (I like my dark chocolate truffles around the holidays, but I don’t have chocolate stocked in the kitchen cabinets the way I used to.) Coffee is trickier, but I will say that as I have a more consistent morning Ashtanga practice, it’s been easier to get by without my morning cups of coffee.

Then, a couple years ago, I learned the hard way — from a terrible allergic reaction to a seafood meal that caused my fingertips and eyelids to turn bulbous, inflating like little balloons — that I am allergic to, of all things, sesame seeds and peanuts. (This dinner was consumed the night before a job interview; needless to say, walking in to talk to a hiring panel while looking out from under still-swollen eyelids, I did not get that job.) I’ll take these allergies any day over being allergic to seafood. But this does mean that despite my Thai heritage, I can’t enjoy that delicious Thai peanut sauce ever again. It means I can never again have hummus on a bagel, since the tahini that makes up hummus is a derivative of sesame seeds.

Now, what if I can’t have that bagel anymore either?

Survey says…
So I guess I’ll find out after Thanksgiving whether the tests say I need to cut out, or at least cut down on, gluten. It might almost be a relief, because if the tests say all is good on the celiac front, then I have to start to systematically determine what exactly is making me feel like ugh. The more time goes by, the more uncomfortable I seem to be getting. I spend much of the day feeling like my torso is working against me. I’m bloated, my digestive system is always so sensitive, and, with my acid reflux, I have heartburn from food and from work-related stress.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been buying things that look good despite the gluten-free label — I think it’s my way of preparing myself if the tests say I have to give up some of the dishes I love so much (carbs and I were meant to be together!). Yes, yes, those of you more enlightened than I am on the healthy food front are shaking your head about my prejudices. That’s the point, though — I am trying to decategorize the concept of gluten-free so that I can think of gluten-free and “tasty” in the same sentence. It’s a similar process I’ve been working through to prove to myself that vegan does not equal tastes-like-cardboard.

On my way home today, after starting the day by getting blood drawn, I stopped at Foods for Living, the local bastion of healthier food options, and picked up a few things. I found a few wheat- and gluten-free products that looked pretty appealing — a ginger molasses cookie, a box of quinoa macaroon cookies (I love quinoa and I like macaroon, so we’ll see how adding the two go) and brown rice hamburger buns.

Before sitting down to write this blog post, I opened up the wrapping for the ginger molasses cookie to try a bite. I ended up inhaling it.

© 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.

Only one day off a week? Is this negotiable?

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?

But I am trying really hard to maintain the traditional Ashtanga lifestyle of upholding all my societal duties — aka, in Indian terms, staying a “householder” rather than withdrawing from society — while still getting on the mat six days a week. So what that ideal practice list turns into is the following.

Be content with less external heat.
My little room heater typically only climbs to 76 or 77 degrees in the morning — and the winter chills haven’t even hit Michigan yet. So I settle for less external heat and let my breathing practice (ujjayi breath) and my bandhas (energy locks) take me the rest of the way. I love the detoxifying feeling of the hot, sweaty practice you can get when practicing in a studio surrounded by the body heat of other yogis — but I find contentment in the heat I do build up in my home practice.

Be content with less time.
If I have an hour, I practice for an hour. I don’t beat up on myself for it. Weekends are generally the easiest time for me to fit in a longer practice, so I try to have at least one long practice (maybe an hour and 45 minutes) once a week and do what I can the other days.

Float my rest day.
The traditional rest day in the Ashtanga vinyasa system is Saturday. Since weekends are prime time for me to practice, I find the most packed day of my week and use that as my rest day. So tomorrow, I’ll be traveling back home and will likely be getting in around 8 p.m. I’ll use tomorrow as my rest day and practice on Saturday.

Float my moon days.
I try not to do this because I like the idea of trying to sync your energy with the lunar cycle, but sometimes, if it will really make a difference in my schedule, I take rest not on the moon day itself, but on the day before or after.

Suck it up and wake up earlier.
I love this Neil Gaiman quote I saw in a recent Confluence Countdown blog post:  “I am not a morning person in the exact same sense that I am not a fruit bat.” That’s ME. It really is. I am convinced I have circadian rhythm sleep disorder. I work best between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. (probably 95 percent of my body posts, including this one, was written during that timeframe). My body and my mind have a visceral aversion to mornings, etc. etc. But yes, yes, this practice teaches us discipline and yes, I just try to suck it up these days and wake up earlier.

On this point about waking up earlier, check out the AY:A2 blog post for tips on how to wake up for yoga. It contains excellent tips — and if you live in a cold climate like I do and have an aversion to that ice cold feeling in the morning, then the blog post advice is invaluable. Some of the most dedicated Ashtanga practitioners get up at 4 a.m. My goals right now are less intense — getting up around 6:30 a.m. or 6:45 a.m. Baby steps.

Be content with the space you have.
We rearranged the coffee table in our small apartment to clear a space in the middle of the living room so that I didn’t have to move furniture every time I practice. I roll out my mat and don’t even think about how I don’t like practicing on carpet or how I don’t like practicing with stuff (couch, guitars, etc.) around me. I just practice, focusing on how I’m grateful to be able to practice at all.

It is so much work to get to the mat six days a week, but in the short time I’ve been able to maintain it, the effects have been noticeable and worth the trouble.

So that’s what I do. How about you?

(Photo: My room heater.)  

© 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.

Mystery meat: How my search for missing taste buds led me to a Chicago vegan diner

 

Last night at this time, I was in a diner in Chicago’s Boystown district, sitting across the table from my very talented, very funny and very fast (in that marathon/triathalon kind of way) friend Molly. We were having a blast catching up after not seeing each other for two years.

But there was one undeniably strange thing about the situation. It wasn’t the circumstances that brought the two of us back together. It was that we were voluntarily doing our celebratory catching-up dinner in a vegan joint.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain when it comes to my view on veganism. I respect other people’s choice about food. For myself, however, I draw the line at vegan dishes — if I can’t have milk or eggs, that’s a deal breaker, and I don’t even want to spend my hard-earned money in a place that caters to vegan taste buds.

I’ve always eaten meat, except for about three years in my mid-20s in which I pretty much cut out pork, poultry and beef from my diet. (I am very nearly a seafood addict, so I never even considered cutting that.) I had initially cut out pork because of one bad sweet and sour pork dish I ate — it tasted like I was eating a carcass, and I was not OK with that. A while later, I cut out poultry because I didn’t like what I had heard about the way chickens and turkey were raised. I cut beef out last, because I believed that red meat wasn’t healthy.

It shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out that this experiment was not working. I seemed to constantly feel tired. My hair would fall out in clumps every time I washed it.

When I finally started listening to my body, though, was when I started having random thoughts of cheeseburgers (like, while driving). If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. So perhaps for the first time in my life, I really listened to my body. I reintroduced meat — all of it — and I felt much better. On every level.

Now, at the not-so-tender age of 35, I’m facing another fork in my gastronomic journey. The last year or so, I’ve felt strongly that I wanted to eat better. It seemed to be less about what I ate — because I don’t eat much fast food, and I naturally crave things that are good for you, like greens, Brussels sprouts and squash — and more about how much I ate.

Then came the game changer — the six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice.

One day off

While I have long aspired to have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice, that resolution has gone the way of so many diets over the years — great intentions, but never actually starting.

Since returning from an Ashtanga yoga retreat at Mt. Shasta this past August, though, I’ve fought for, and so far maintained, a schedule that gives me only one rest day a week (in addition to the typical two moon days a month when you don’t practice). When I say “fought,” I mean it. It has been a battle to keep this schedule up — for six days of every week, I fight to carve out enough time to practice.

On the level of honoring traditions, I’m drawn to how this is the prescribed schedule for an Ashtanga practice. On a personal level, I’m drawn to what such a consistent practice does for my body and my mind.

But right now, I think that more than anything, I am fighting for this schedule because I want the discipline of it. I need to prove to myself that I have it in me to follow through. If six days had been something dictated by my employer, I would have done it already. I have always, on some important level, put my personal life after my professional life. I feel, first and foremost, that my responsibility is to my work — to doing a kick-ass job on whatever it is, and to meet all my deadlines. I’ve always asked my family, my friends — and, finally, myself — to understand during those times when work had to come first.

What I’m proving to myself with this six day a week practice is that I can do both — I can still rock out at work while not short-changing my personal life. Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor has reminded me that the Ashtanga practice is by design a householder’s pursuit. This practice wasn’t designed for people who could shirk off daily responsibilities.

Do you have chicken that tastes like something else?

So it’s early November now, and one thing that started happening maybe three weeks ago — so roughly eight weeks into this six-day-a-week practice — is that I have not been able to bring myself to eat chicken. I’ve been fine with beef — even had a craving the other week for my favorite burger place in Lansing. It’s just been chicken that I’ve wanted nothing to do with — something about the taste and the texture. If someone were to set a plate of Southwestern eggrolls — one of my guilty-pleasure appetizers — in front of me at this moment, I think I would look and then keep typing.

Is that a vegan menu?

This weekend, I headed to Chicago for Tim Miller’s workshops at the yogaview studio. My friend Molly very generously offered to let me crash at her place, so we had the chance to compare notes about how the past couple of years have gone. For our big dinner Saturday night, Molly ran down a long list of suggestions — awesome-sounding places that featured small plates and/or seafood. Fancy places, less fancy places, fun places. The one that sounded the best? Chicago Diner, a joint that specializes in vegan cuisine.

I had had a lovely, sweaty Timji-led Ashtanga primary series practice that morning, in a room full of more than 60 yogis all going to the flow of this practice. I left feeling amazing. I know that feeling carried me through the day, and I know that played a role in not feeling like eating anything heavy.

But vegan?

After seeing the full menu of choices including sweet potato quesadillas and a chicken firehouse wrap with “chicken” seitan, curiosity and an appreciate for creative flare and fare drew me to the place. It reminded me of Chu Chai, one of my favorite places in Montreal — a vegetarian Thai place that offers delicious faux-meat dishes.

The Chicago Diner did not disappoint. The food was fantastic. Molly and I started out with some sweet potato fries topped with “cheeze” and I had a Soul Bowl with quinoa (love that stuff!), spicy grilled tofu with chimichurri sauce, black beans, flashed greens and mashed sweet potatoes. We ended with — get this — vegan chocolate chip cookie dough shakes.

Did the dining experience make me want to go vegan or even vegetarian? Absolutely not. It did make me want to return to Chicago Diner, and it did make me reflect some more about the power of practicing six days a week. If this is already what I’m experience 11 weeks in, it’s going to be interesting.

As for chicken — will I start wanting to eat it again? We’ll see. I kind of like having this be my mystery meat for the time being.

How about you? Do you practice six days a week? What, if anything, changed for you?

(Photo credit: (Top) Wallace and Gromit‘s Feathers McGraw, as imagined on a T-shirt (Bottom) Chicago Diner’s 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.

The sixth time’s still the charm

I’m writing this at half past midnight, thinking about how later today, I’ll be heading to Chicago for Tim Miller‘s workshop at yogaview (yes, the studio’s name is lowercase). This will mark the sixth time I’m getting to see Tim since I took my first workshop with him in April 2010. Getting to see your teacher three times a year doesn’t seem nearly frequent enough, but on the other hand, I am grateful for every opportunity (and sadly, three times a year is actually more often than I get to see my family out in California in a typical year).

Three times a year means three chances to be reinspired, reinvigorated and infused with a greater level of subtlety in the Ashtanga vinyasa practice. It always seems that I leave a visit with Tim with enough inspiration, energy and experiences/ideas to tide me over until the next time I see him.

The Confluence Countdown recently did a post on what you can learn from a workshop you don’t attend, and I liked that idea. In a similar vein, then, what follows are the descriptions (exactly as written on the yogaview website) for each of the workshops being offered this weekend. I think it’s the same schedule as last year when I attend Tim’s workshop at yogaview, and — much like the Ashtanga practice itself — the fact that a workshop’s theme is the same hardly means it will be repetitive to me. I learn so much each time — maybe I pick up on stuff I missed before or maybe I am able to connect with something a different way based on more recent developments in my life. Our bodies and minds are always in constant states of flux, and that affects our perception of, and therefore our experience of, a yoga training of any kind.

I always seem to have at least four or five blog posts kicking around in my head. One that I’m getting close to writing has to do with what draws us to certain teachers. I’ll put some more thought into this topic this weekend. In the meantime, I would be very interested to hear what you think are the most important qualities of a good teacher — yoga, martial arts, sports, academics, or otherwise.

In any case, without any further ado, here’s what I’ll be spending my time engaged in this weekend:

Ashtanga Yoga with Tim Miller
The practice of Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient and powerful discipline for cultivating physical, mental and spiritual health. Progressive techniques of breath, posture and movement, cleanse, stretch and strengthen the body as well as focus and calm the mind. A deeper experience of the self becomes possible through consistent practice.

Tim Miller has been studying and teaching Ashtanga Yoga for over thirty years and was the first American certified to teach by Pattabhi Jois at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. Tim has a thorough knowledge of this ancient system, which he imparts in a dynamic, yet compassionate and playful manner. “My goal as a teacher is to inspire a passion for practice. The practice itself, done consistently and accurately, is the real teacher.” Tim teaches workshops and retreats throughout the United States and abroad.

Roots and Wings – The Mysterious and Elusive Bandhas
Please join us as we explore the application of bandhas to a variety of asanas as a way of enhancing concentration, stability, comfort, alignment, and lightness. We will also use a variety of pranayama techniques to explore the connection of breath to bandhas and a refined sense of awareness.

Primary Series as an Archetype for Practice
This class will explore the philosophy of Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras combined with an in depth examination and practice of Ashtanga Yoga’s Primary Series: Yoga Chikitsa.

Adjustments Clinic and Q & A
Open to all interested in deepening their knowledge of the use of adjustments and alternative approaches to asanas found in the Ashtanga system. Examine problematic asanas and patterns and explore how adjustments and modifications can enable freedom and balance

The Heroic Journey – Sadhana as an Exploration
Please join us for this invigorating improvisational vinyasa flow class addressing the layers of the self (the koshas) using asana, pranayama, mantra, and sacred poetry.

The Art of Breathing
This class will focus on cultivating a deeper sense of the breath as it applies to our practice. We will continue to explore the subtle, yet powerful, use of pranayama techniques. At the heart of Vinyasa the proper use of the breath enables a sense of freedom and ease in our practice.

© 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.

 

 

 

 

‘Siri, how do I get into lotus pose?’

I keep seeing these commercials for Siri, the groundbreaking personal assistant app on the new Apple iPhone 4S, and I can’t but wonder whether Siri can answer questions about yoga. Why wouldn’t she be able to, right?

I could see the following conversations:

iPhone user/yogi: “Why do I have knee pain in padmasana (lotus pose)?”
Siri: “It might be related to the hip joint. Learn more at Yoganatomy.”

iPhone user/yogi: “How much would it cost to travel to Mysore, India to study Ashtanga?”
Siri: “I have found this blog post from Claudia Yoga with a breakdown of costs.”

iPhone user/yogi: “How do I correctly do the prasarita padottanasana poses in Ashtanga?”
Siri: “I have found the following video posted on the Confluence Countdown blog showing how to perform these postures.”

What if you ask Siri to tell you some stories about Hanuman and other Hindu deities? I’m sure she could. But I’m also sure I’d rather hear them from Tim Miller, who I’m excited I get to see next weekend when he comes to the lovely yogaview studio in Chicago.

Though I’ll admit — if I had the new iPhone (I’ll update as soon as my contract allows me to, believe me), I’d definitely ask Siri how I can best avoid Friday evening rush hour traffic as I drive into the Windy City.

Do you have Siri? Have you tried out some yoga-related questions yet?

(Photo credit: Via apple.com)

© 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 the (full) moon!

By 7 a.m. this morning, I was aboard a Cessna flying from Grand Ledge, Mich. to Houghton, a little town on the state’s Upper Peninsula, for a client meeting. I have an aversion to mornings that early, but starting the flight out while it was still dark had its benefits. Yesterday was a full moon, which meant we were treated to a gorgeously radiant sphere this morning. It seemed for a while that the four of us aboard this flight were channeling Peter Pan, poised in our little plane to fly straight into this lunar dream. When the sun started to rise — as we were cruising, I assume, about 7,000 feet up — we had the moon ahead of us to the left and the sun behind us to the right. An incredible and rare view.

In the yogic tradition and in Buddhist cultures, the moon’s phases dictate important milestones. In Ashtanga yoga, a full moon and a new moon are occasions to take rest.

Why? Tim Miller explains this on his website:

Like all things of a watery nature (human beings are about 70% water), we are affected by the phases of the moon. The phases of the moon are determined by the moon’s relative position to the sun. Full moons occur when they are in opposition and new moons when they are in conjunction. Both sun and moon exert a gravitational pull on the earth. Their relative positions create different energetic experiences that can be compared to the breath cycle. The full moon energy corresponds to the end of inhalation when the force of prana is greatest. This is an expansive, upward moving force that makes us feel energetic and emotional, but not well grounded. The Upanishads state that the main prana lives in the head. During the full moon we tend to be more headstrong.

The new moon energy corresponds to the end of exhalation when the force of apana is greatest. Apana is a contracting, downward moving force that makes us feel calm and grounded, but dense and disinclined towards physical exertion.

The Farmers Almanac recommends planting seeds at the new moon when the rooting force is strongest and transplanting at the full moon when the flowering force is strongest.

Practicing Ashtanga Yoga over time makes us more attuned to natural cycles. Observing moon days is one way to recognize and honor the rhythms of nature so we can live in greater harmony with it.

That’s in general. Read Tim’s latest blog post on our just-passed October full moon to see why this might be a great time for professional advancement and taking on new responsibilities.

In the Theravada Buddhism tradition, the October full moon marks the end of what is sometimes referred to the Buddhist lent — a three-month period that coincides with the rainy season in Asian countries:

During this time Buddhist monks remain in a single place, generally in their temples. In some monasteries, monks dedicate the Vassa to intensive meditation. During Vassa, many Buddhist lay people reinvigorate their spiritual training and adopt more ascetic practices, such as giving up meat, alcohol, or smoking.

You can read more about this (scroll down to “Vassa”). This Saturday at Wat Dhammasala, a Thai Theravada temple in a little town called Perry about half an hour from where I live, there will be a celebration of the End of Rains Retreat ceremony.

This is quite a bit of significance to hang on this month’s full moon, don’t you think? Have you been feeling the moon’s pull this week?

(Photo credit: “Full Moon” via Windsordi’s Flickr stream 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.

Fallen arches, salsa dancing and yoga standing postures

Scott and I enjoyed a 38-hour stay in Toronto this past weekend to catch one day of the Canada Salsa Congress. We got a taste of Zouk, watched mesmerizing dance groups such as Yamulee perform, and danced till 3 a.m. (with me in a — I kid you not — pink-sequined dress).

But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about what I learned about feet — specifically, mine (though I hope maybe you’ll discover something about your feet as well).

One of the sponsors of the event was DanceFeet, a Toronto-based custom orthotics operation co-founded by a chiropractor who also happens to be a salsa dancer. I did the free assessment — stepped on the pressure pad they had out, reviewed a computerized map of my steps and did some balancing squat tests.

Prognosis? I have fallen arches. Aka flatfeet. Aka issues with the medial longitudinal arches of my feet.

This didn’t surprise me, since one of my sisters has arch issues. It was actually a relief, because it was the best explanation so far about why I have so much pain when I wear heels.

The one-legged squat test got me thinking beyond salsa on 2 and bachata (please note that we do not look like this when we try bachata — for one thing, we are both wearing shirts), and into the realm of yoga, breath and bandhas: Flatfeet + utthita hasta padangusthasana = Imbalance!

Yes, you need breath. And bandhas. And focus. But sometimes, there’s a straightforward structural issue that requires consideration as well. I just found this thread in which one ashtangi is asking for advice about this:

I have had some problems doing certain standing poses for a while now. I always figured that I wasn’t fully using my bandhas/core strength and that was why I was having trouble. The other day my instructor comes over to me in utthita hasta padangusthasana. She said to ground my big toe and use the arch of my foot to gain balance. The problem is I don’t have an arch.

Today during my practice, I took my Dansko shoes (with arch support) and tried to do the pose with one shoe on, AND IT WORKED. I was able to balance and bring my leg out to the side, look over my shoulder and not lose balance.

During the assessment I took over the weekend, I was told to stand on one of DanceFeet’s custom orthotics to do a one-legged squat — and, like the experience this person had, it felt much more stable to me. Yesterday during my practice, I did an experiment and tried folding over the edge of my rug and placing that under the inner arch (or lack thereof, I guess) of my foot in order to achieve a similar effect. The posture felt slightly more stable, but there have to be better solutions, right?

Bandha Yoga offers this breakdown of the foot, and discusses how you can use your toes and certain muscles to deepen and strengthen arches.

Thank you, salsa dancing, for leading me to this insight. I’m still in investigation mode with this information and want to know if anyone else has worked through fallen arch issues in standing poses. Do you have any advice you can share?

(P.S. — In the short time we were in Toronto, I managed to sneak out long enough to take a led class at Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. It was much needed. I picked up David Robson’s Learn to Float DVD while I was there, and I have a feeling I will be offering it up during a giveaway contest this holiday. 😉 )

(Photo credit: Top: “Dancing Feet” by Jonathan Chen via Flickr Creative Commons. Second image: Via BandhaYoga.com.)

© 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.

 

Reimagining…everything

Via jmak.tumblr.com

News of the death of Steve Jobs broke while I was teaching Intro to Ashtanga Yoga, so I didn’t learn about his passing until after class, when I picked up my iPhone and saw tweet after tweet with the announcement. While not surprising given the health problems Jobs endured over the past few years, it was, of course, sad.

How could it not be? Though lots of people are described as “visionary,” how many embodied it the way Jobs did? He saw a radically different way to approach computers, music, phones, animation — which translates into envisioning a different approach to communication, self-expression and creativity. And that’s just the beginning.

Michael Moore, who has joined the Occupy Wall Street protestors, just tweeted:

As word passes thru the crowd of Steve Jobs’ passing, it is not lost on anyone that his inventions helped make movements like this possible.

Part of being a visionary means having faith that your intuition is right — that you’re on the right path. It’s not easy to keep that faith.

I can’t help but think about the loss when Pattabhi Jois died in 2009. Guruji, as his students called him, single-handedly changed the lives of thousands of people who have been transformed through the eight-limbed practice of Ashtanga yoga.

Ashtanga yoga has helped me reimagine what I’m capable of. I saw these poses that looked impossible and thought, “Well, these poses are for people with different body types than mine.” Over time, I learned that approaching the postures had far less to do with bones, muscles and strength and far more with breath, focus and perspective. Surprised by how I could approach being in my body in a radically different way, I started to look around at other areas of life. My professional life, for instance. The skills I thought I didn’t have — was it true? Or it was just that I wasn’t approaching it the right way? Yoga helped me reimagine my approach to my career and everything else.

Want to hear a yogic talk? Read this snippet from Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford University commencement:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: ‘If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.’ It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn’t even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor’s code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you’d have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I’m fine now.

This was the closest I’ve been to facing death, and I hope it’s the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Read the entire transcript or watch the speech — at your desk on a MacBook, or while traveling on your iPad or iPhone.

(Photo credit: Jonathan Mak’s Tumblr)

© 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.

 

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, remixed

 Radiohead’s new album drops next week. It’s not actually a new Radiohead album per se. TKOL RMX 1234567 is a new album of Radiohead songs off The King of Limbs that have been remixed by artists like Caribou and Four Tet. I’ve always loved remixes because they’re a different way of imagining and experiencing the same lyrics and the same basic melodies.

I think going through your Ashtanga practice with a different teacher in the room can achieve a similar effect. Same postures and vinyasas — but perhaps a different glissando from pose to pose or a different vibrational quality in an adjustment.

That’s one of the many reasons why I’m looking forward to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence taking place in San Diego next March. You’ll have five renowned teachers who clearly teach from the heart sharing their love of the practice. I’m looking forward to experiencing some live remixes of my Ashtanga practice.

Whose drumbeat do you move to?

Whose drumbeat do you move to? How do you keep a steady rhythm in your yoga practice and in your life?

Watching David Robson’s new, outstanding Learn to Float instructional video (review below) has me thinking about drumbeats, rhythm, cadence and steadiness — from salsa dancing and Ashtanga yoga to daily life and life trajectories.

The salsa beat

In kinetic and chaotic environments, it can be a challenge to achieve the focus needed to discern the right rhythm. When my boyfriend and I started salsa dancing lessons earlier this year, one of the hardest skills to pick up was how to hear the underlying beat pattern that was keeping pace of the song amidst the cacophony of all the other instruments. It’s easy to think you’re following the right beat — until it starts to speed up, or it drops altogether, signaling that you had your attention in the wrong place.

I see this a lot in new students who are on the mat but allow most of their focus to go toward flitting about the room on all the distractions around them — who is doing that challenging pose they can’t get into yet? Who’s come down into balasana (child’s pose)? Who just walked back into the room after a trip to the bathroom? I think of the jumping ball you get on a karaoke screen when I think about the level of attention we’re talking about in cases like these. A consistent practice helps eye-darters begin to settle in, and it helps them start to become more attune to the fluctuations of their own body and their own breath.

Now, after you discern the pattern, do you know which beat is primary? Once I started having an easier time recognizing the right rhythm in a salsa song, I learned that there was another factor to consider — which beat is emphasized. There are  two competing schools in modern salsa dancing — salsa on 1 (the kind we do) and salsa on 2, prevalent in New York. Changing which beat to emphasize can change your whole experience of the dance.

The Ashtanga breath

The salsa on 1 vs. salsa on 2 distinction reminds me a bit about the different schools of thought when it comes to vinyasa breaths. When do you inhale and when do you exhale in a sequence? In the Ashtanga system, when you’re in down dog and need to float forward to return to the top of the mat, it’s on an inhale. That just fundamentally makes sense to me, because you’re riding the wave of your breath to help you get from point A to point B as lightly and as effortlessly as possible. (As a side note, some ashtangis keep the bandhas engaged but “jump empty” to the top of the mat, taking the inhale to lift the head before coming into ashtau, folding forward. I’ve tried that out for some time and like that approach as well. Something about moving “empty” speaks to me. But this is probably a topic for another blog post.)

In the power yoga system I was taught, you exhale from down dog to return to the top of the mat (the verbal cue would be: “from down dog, inhale press, exhale step or float to the top of your mat”). I am less enamored of this way of floating, because I feel that it goes against the grain of how I contextualize the role of the breath. I think exhaling to the top encourages more of a strength-and-momentum-based, rather than a breath-and-bandha-based, approach to moving. (That said, I am a bilingual yogi — I can speak both Ashtanga and power :). When I teach a power yoga or vinyasa flow class, I teach with the verbal cue to exhale to the top of the mat.)

No matter where you fall on the inhale and exhale debate, perhaps the most important thing is that your breaths are consistent and are keeping a steady pace for the practice.

Moving at the speed of life

Ultimately, what does steadiness in our practice give us? It’s hard to be independent if we need someone else to keep time for us. I’ve always worked in deadline-driven jobs, so I know what it’s like to live, to some extent, on someone else’s clock. But even within that pressure cooker, you can find your own rhythm so that you don’t lose your own sense of grounding — or worse, so you don’t lose your sense of self altogether. Finding this space of being even-keel is one of my life struggles. I know I will be working on my level of reactivity till the day I die. But the more I find a steady beat on the mat, the more practice I’ll have in discerning the internal beat pattern that moves my spirit on some fundamental level — and the more likely I’ll be able to stay attuned to that pattern when I’m off the mat.

The Learn to Float instructional video

I wrote about the release of Learn to Float earlier this week, and was looking forward to having the time to finally stream it and practice along. (Watch a snippet if you haven’t already.) Ashtanga.com was right in calling this production “mesmerizing.”

I think beginning and advanced ashtangis alike should download the video, stat. For less than the cost of a typical drop-in yoga class — the streaming video is $9.99 CAD (about $9.52 USD currently) — you get a 45-minute video that’s beautifully produced and keenly focused.

David tells you he is going to break down how to find the graceful floating found in the surya namaskaras (sun salutations). To get there, David discusses the importance of the technique behind tristanum, which he describes as “the union of three places of attention” — asana (posture), dristri (gaze) and breath (even, sounded breathing).

He gives an excellent explanation of, and breakdown for, mula bandha and uddiyana bandha and suggests two rules that will help keep you focused, which helps with floating:

  • Movement always follows breath.
  • Your vinyasa should be a straight line.

He does a fantastic job of laying out steps of safety — including how to make sure you’re not overworking the tops of the shoulders and thus risking injury.

David begins to demonstrate surya namaskara A with this instruction:

Ekam, inhale, lift the arms, hands touch with the end of the breath, dvi, exhale, speed the movement up, hands on the floor, trini, inhale, slow down, lift the head, chaturi, step or hop back, chaturanga dandasana, pancha, inhale, slow down into upward dog…

Meanwhile, 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).

I started my last two practices with the sun salutations included in the final “practice” segment of Learn to Float, and then continued with the rest of my series trying to keep that same rhythm. It was so grounding, and a bit primal at the same time — just me, my breath and the steadiness of this external drumbeat that reflected the steadiness my internal heartbeat.

(Photo credit: Flickr photostream photo of a Taiko drummer by Mayu ;p via Flickr Creative Commons. By the way, if you’ve never been to a Taiko show, go! It’s amazing stuff, and you have to see it live.)

© 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.

New ‘mesmerizing’ DVD teaches you how to float in Ashtanga yoga

 

While I was sleeping, @ashtangayoga tweeted this:

However you “float” in your practice, Learn to Float is mesmerizing:http://bit.ly/qYgyPY

Of course, I had to see what this was all about. David Robson, director of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto, has released a DVD ($22 CAD, which is, as I write this, about $20.97 USD) — along with options for online streaming ($9.99 CAD for access for an entire year) and an audio download (for just $1.99 CAD) — that teaches you to float. You can tell from the trailer alone that the production value is gorgeous and the drum beat used in the video makes it that much more hypnotic.

David says in the DVD:

Floating happens when there is perfection union between breath and movement.

That float that dedicated ashtangis have is like art to me — a moving expression of passion, devotion and focus. It’s not something you can buy. It’s not something you can will. It’s not something you can brute-force into achieving. It’s a balance of synergy and surrender.

To emphasize that this is not a practice for the elite, David includes this Pattabhi Jois quote just under the trailer for his DVD:

…Yoga, as a way of life and as a philosophy, can be practiced by anyone with an inclination to under take it, for yoga belongs to humanity as a whole. It is not the property of any one group or any individual, but can be followed by any and all, in any corner ofthe globe, regardless of class, creed or religion.

You can buy the DVD from Ashtanga.com or from David’s Learn to Float website.

Are you still learning how to float? Do you think this video will be helpful? Have you already made that connection to floating? How did you learn it?

© 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 daily grind (or, how I’m trying to avoid another surgery on my gums)

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Once a year, I have to go see my periodontal surgeon. It’s an appointment I dread, because I’m afraid I’m going to be told that my teeth-grinding has continued to such a degree that I once again need surgery (of the free gingival graft variety — where tissue is taken from the roof of the mouth and grafted to your gum line, which has receded because you grind your teeth so much that the action erodes your gums over time).

Today was my appointment for 2011.

I wrote a blog post a while back about clenching (“‘Rarely do we clench just one thing‘”). Even though I think about clenching pretty frequently, I have to say I really thought about it a lot today, and I also thought about it yesterday, during a daylong Ashtanga yoga retreat hosted by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor.  There was a point when the discussion got to how the Ashtanga yoga system can affect your daily habits — how it can even make you so present, and so transparent, that you don’t have spaces in the body to hold things — things like tension and negative emotions.

I can’t imagine what that would feel like — to experience tension and let it just slide off you because there aren’t nooks and crannies in your body into which you would squirrel that stuff as a way of packing it away.

Do you know how where you pack your stuff?

I hold most of my tension in my neck and shoulders. There is this one spot in my right upper back in particular that seems to serve as the reservoir for all my stress run-off. Even yoga doesn’t always provide relief, and when it comes to that, I seek refuge in my acupuncturist’s office — so that she can turn the needle in that spot to open the value and release some of the pressure.

Obviously, I take a fair amount of stress into my jaw as well. I bear down, I lock and I grind. Daily.

On a professional and personal level, the amount of stress in my life has decreased substantially since 2008, when I had my gum surgery. Since that time, I’ve also upped the frequency of, and my commitment to, my Ashtanga practice.

Has it helped? I hope so. I figured I would have at least one black-and-white measure depending on what happened today.

The appointment began the same way it does every time. My surgeon, who is not only a sweetheart but is also extremely good at what she does, examines each tooth and rattles off a number to her assistant. “Three, three, three, two one.” I don’t even know how her assistant writes it all down fast enough. “One, one, one, three, three, three…”

Years after my surgery, I still don’t know what the numbers mean — because I don’t want to know. When I’m in the chair and until my surgeon gives the overall prognosis, I hold my breath and tense up all over. Thank goodness she is thoughtful enough to invest in fantastic dental chairs equipped with massagers for the back, because that helps a bit with the tension.

Happily, I survived another appointment. I left with a clean bill of health. I need to continue to wear my mouth guard every night, but I made it another year without the threat of surgery. Is it all due to the mouth guard? Luck? Genes? Yoga? Less overall stress in my life? Probably a combination of all of the above.

I hope, however, that I’ll be less dependent on all of those factors by the time my appointment rolls around next year. I hope I’ll be a little closer to being able to not only conceptualize but to also experience, in my own body, what it means to not have any place to stash stress and hard emotions.

(Photo credit: “Equine Dentistry” via Flickr Creative Commons (photostream of pmarkham))

© 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 keeps you from the mat? For ashtangi blogger Claudia Azula, it’s Lyme disease

 

Flame of a burning citronella candle magnified 10X by Jonathan Gill via Flickr Creative Commons

Claudia Azula Altucher was the first ashtangi blogger who really caught my attention. As a daily blogger and a frequent tweeter, I could count on interesting observations or some Ashtanga news tidbit whenever a tweet from @claudiayoga flittered by on my HootSuite dashboard. I’ve never met the New York-based blogger, but I hope to some day.

When I do, I hope she’s got more energy than she does now.

Claudia has Lyme disease. Earlier this week, this trio of tweets gave her followers a 140-character sense of what she was experiencing:

Take that Lyme Disease, I have energy right now and I am loving it! I cannot Fail! I am working with the LIGHT and antibiotics too

…followed by:

Aaaanddd down I go again #Lyme

….followed by:

Hey, Lyme rhymes with Light…

The next day, Claudia went into more detail in a blog post titled “Asana meltdown.”

‘Time for me to go to bed’ I said at 7:34 AM. Yes, AM. Are you sure Honey? said James. How about we try something different?

He then sat on the floor in the small space in front of the coffee table and did something that resembled paschimotanasana. He did not say anything, just attempted it. I got up from the sofa, slowly, sluggishly, and sat on the floor. Tried dandasana first, my eyes locked on James, scared to what may come, then on the exhale walked the hands and tried to go down.

That is when it hit me and I started to cry uncontrollably.  That was my paschimottanasana of three years ago maybe four, barely could touch the toes, three breaths and I was out.

He did not pay attention to the tears at all but rather pointed out that I was touching my toes and my back was relatively straight, or rather, not so rounded. From his perspective the asana was glorious.

 

Yesterday, her husband, James Altucher, wrote a blog post that begins:

In a few minutes, Claudia will collapse. It’s making me sad. Her normal schedule is to wake up around 4:30-5am, read with me for awhile, and then begin her yoga routine which could last from 2-3 hours. But for the past six weeks she has not done yoga. For the first time in ten years.

I highly recommend reading both blog posts in their entirely. They’re beautiful testaments to a strong love for a practice and a strong love between a husband and a wife during a time of intense challenge.

Following Claudia’s struggles with Lyme disease as I fight to start, and maintain, a six-day-a-week practice is a reminder to me that our Ashtanga practice is our greatest teacher — whether or not we are physically able to get on the mat.

Our ability to do the physical practice changes throughout the course of our lives — due to illness, due to injuries or lack thereof, due to our commitment levels, due to teachers whose paths we cross (gifted teachers can make such a difference in our relationship of the practice). Basically, our ability — for better and for worse — to do the physical practice changes due to the unpredictability of life. But I think our connection with the practice is a fire that can burn consistently strong regardless of all other circumstances.

Eight limbs

The founder and owner of Hilltop Yoga, my home-base yoga studio here in Lansing, Mich., has experienced extended periods of not being able to physically practice yoga. Hilaire Lockwood has metastatic resistant thyroid cancer, and by all accounts, she shouldn’t even be alive. She’s alive because she’s a pistol of a human being, and she’s alive because of her eight-limbed yoga practice, as she explains on her website:

I have since in six years had five radical neck dissection and lymphectomies, my last one just more than a year ago. Each time my practice continues to come back, reassuring me that it is always there regardless of my physical or emotional state. They say I will never be in remission as I live with my cancer. I found my cancer through meditation and continue to find it every time it is back or revisiting in my meditation sit time, which is crucial. Not only did this experience provide perspective for my practice but has also allowed me to teach yoga as a healing modality.

Yoga in the classical sense is a lot more than physical postures, of course. It includes the eight limbs — ethical practices, breathing exercises, meditation and sense withdrawal among them.

From my observations, it seems that for any committed yogi, being kept from the physical practice due to circumstances beyond your control is a combination of frustrating, saddening and painful — even though we know there are seven other limbs. I mean, for the die-hard ashtangis accustomed to a six-day-a-week practice, missing even one practice is an event (and not a desirable one). Most of my power yoga friends don’t do well if they miss any practice they had counted on getting to.

And when the circumstances beyond your control move beyond a traffic jam, a late babysitter or an overdue work project and into the realm of Lyme disease or cancer — I can’t even imagine. It’s hard not to feel a sense of “there but for the grace of god go I…”

Six days a week?

David Garrigues says this in “Six days a week since ’93,” a blog post based on a workshop talk:

Do you see it? What is holding you back, from going further, I’m talking about things that truly don’t belong there. Not things in your life that do belong, like a great job, relationship, children, art and such, ultimately, those things feed you and your soul in just as necessary ways as your practice does. I’m talking about the things only you’ll know what they are. The expendable parts of your life that you are choosing to divert your energy into. The reality is that Ashtanga might help a person be better at nearly any physical activity, but nearly any other physical activity will compromise your Ashtanga practice in some way. For me, even how much I admire the soul of true surfing, I still choose my Yoga practice. There’s a subtlety to it that is not found elsewhere.

The thing that most often keeps me from my mat is my work schedule, and over the years, I’ve seen how much “I can’t fit that in” has changed. In the beginning, that meant I got to a yoga class once every two weeks, maybe once a week. In 2009, I stepped it up and would take vinyasa yoga classes at my local studio up to five, six days a week.

At heart, though, I’m an ashtangi, and most recently, I’ve stopped letting it be a hindrance that there aren’t daily Ashtanga classes offered at local studios that I can fit around my work and teaching schedule. For the past two months, I’ve fought to get as close to a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice as I can by practicing at home.

I’ve been doing OK — last month, 19 Ashtanga classes, one vinyasa yoga class at the studio. So far this month, 18 Ashtanga practices — all but a couple on my own, in the less-than-ideal setting of my little apartment. I practice at different times every day. In less-than-ideal circumstances. In a shorter timeframe than I would like. But I am practicing far more frequently than I ever have in my life — and I hope to work up to a daily 6 a.m. practice some day. Baby steps, right? (To reach this last phase, I need to figure out how to let go of sleeping at 1 or 2 a.m. I’ve always been a night owl, and I feel most at peace and most creative between the hours of 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.)

That said, if I really and truly can’t practice these days, I let it go. I couldn’t agree more with Confluence Countdown blogger Steve — a former journalist like me whose current job still comes with deadlines and unpredictable hours — when it comes to this:

Some busyness — my work this week — just drains, and while Ashtanga can buffer against that, at a certain point there’s a balance you have to find. You have to let go, I guess, and realize that getting up that next morning isn’t the best thing for you.

Other busyness, perhaps that brings with it more straight-on stress, might demand an extra practice, or at least some extra attempts at yoga with everything around you. You know those times when you need those focused moments, just you and your body and the practice.

I try to listen to how I’m feeling. And that’s certainly one of the benefits, or effects anyway, of a dedicated yoga practice, right? You can hear your body better. (Or maybe it’s just that your body learns to yell louder and more persuasively.) I try to put my ego aside and agree that maybe tomorrow does need to be a rest day, when my body is arguing that.

I am grateful every time I have the chance to get on my mat and start the Ashtanga opening invocation. “Vande gurunam” is such a source of comfort for me, because I know that getting to that point was the hardest part.

Dedication

When I practice next, I will dedicate it to all those who can’t practice due to circumstances beyond their control. And Claudia — lots of people are thinking about you. Thank you for blogging your experiences and being honest enough to share your struggles and victories. Namaste.

(Photo credit: Flame of a burning citronella candle magnified 10X by Jonathan Gill 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.

 

 

Quiz: Do you have what it takes to practice Ashtanga yoga?

I thought it might be helpful to create a little quiz to help you determine if you’re ready for Ashtanga yoga — you know, sort of like the fit test that you have to take before you start P90X. Take the quiz and then return to the rest of the post.


Now that you’ve looked at my silly quiz, you know the point I’m trying to make. Sharath Rangaswamy says in the Ashtanga, NY documentary: “Anybody can practice yoga….Except lazy people. Lazy people can’t practice yoga.” Ashtanga primary series is not called Yoga Chikitsa (yoga therapy) for nothing — it is designed to heal. I remember David Swenson telling a story about how he watched Pattabhi Jois put a paralyzed boy into various postures.

In Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual, he says this of primary series:

Many practitioners of Ashtanga Yoga have found the Primary Series to be an invaluable tool to assist them in their healing process, whether it be mental or physical. As with any healing process we must be patient and determined. The greatest tool you may utilize to discover the benefits waiting for you within Yoga Chikitsa is patience. Allow time for your practice to mature and the fruits will present themselves.

Jois famously said that Ashtanga is “99% practice, 1% theory.” I like to say that you need two things to be able to practice Ashtanga: the ability to breathe and a flexible mind — a mind that’s willing to experience something something new.

Curious about Ashtanga yoga? Find a good teacher and get on the mat already!

(Image credit: By robotson 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.

These shoes weren’t made for walking, but what’s a yogi to do

Heels, baby

Let’s get this out of the way: I <3 yoga and I <3 high heels. Not in that $1,900 Manolo Blahnik/Sex in the City way, and not in the fashion-over-function Victoria Beckham way.

For me, it’s a now and then kind of thing, and we’re maybe talking about a pair of $40 brown patent leather shoes for work or a $70 pair of 3.5-inch heels from Aldo for dancing. From Chicago to Miami to London, I’ve done that post-dancing limp — you know the one, where you eventually decide it’s worth the risk to go barefoot on a city sidewalk (there are some nasty things you can step on in those situations) rather than endure that pain any longer.

And those are the reasonable, kind heels that are my correct size. I am guilty of falling for unreasonable, cruel heels that are just a tad too small — because they, well, sort of fit, and my size isn’t available, and they too cute to leave behind on that sales rack. I have a couple of these types of shoes categorized by time and surface: the two-hour-on-a-dancefloor-but-stay-away-from-concrete shoes, the-wear-all-day-as-long-as-I-don’t-have-meetings-to-travel-to shoes.

And if experience isn’t enough, the statistics should be. Consider figures that you can find quoted everywhere online that claim one-inch heels can increase the pressure on your feet by about 22 percent, two-inch heels up to 57 percent, and three-inches heels up to 76 percent.

I thought about this earlier this week, when I made a terrible calculation about the extent of required walking for one of my work meetings. With 3.5-inch heels, I ended up joining a meeting that involved walking around for a site assessment. That evening when I did my Ashtanga primary series practice, I had a little muscle spasm when I crossed my feet for bhujapindasana (arm pressure posture).

My favorite pose for relieving pain from high heels is janu sirsasana C. I am in the minority, as far as I can tell. This cartoon seems to reflect how a great many yogis seems to feel about this pose. But there is no other pose I practice in which I feel this level of relief for my feet.

In his book Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga, John Scott describes janu C this way:

Correct placement of the heel in this asana is dependent on the range of hip rotation you have and the length of your Achilles tendon, and so it may take time to achieve. Take care with this asana to protect your knee.

For the most part, though, I try to wear supportive shoes. And when I go salsa dancing these days, I bring a long a pair of ballet-flats-to-go that I wear to and from the dance venue.

Will my will power ever overcome my penchant for high heels? Not any time soon. Thank goodness I have yoga to help with all the things I voluntarily unnecessarily do.

© 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.

Know thyself (bones, muscles, Golgi tendon organ and all)

Via BandhaYoga.com

I spent the weekend in a yoga anatomy workshop that was led by University of Michigan-trained orthopedic surgeon and hatha yoga practitioner Ray Long, MD, and assisted by 3D graphic designer/illustrator Chris Macivor.

It rocked.

In this blog post, I’m going to share a couple nuggets about how yoga students and teachers can approach learning and applying anatomy, and then I’m going to send you over to additional resources from this doctor-designer team.

The more I learn about anatomy, the more I think that one of the most sorely lacking aspects of the American educational system is what we don’t teach our kids about their own bodies. You can’t really fault a society that turns to quick-fixes — pills, surgeries and questionable products hocked on infomercials — if people aren’t taught how to assess the source of their pain and how to further investigate potential fixes.

I’m lucky I found yoga, because I’d probably be in that category of quick-fix seeker. I’ve never so much as taken an anatomy class, and I never did much in my teen and adult years that required truly connecting with my body — I exercised only grudgingly, didn’t do any type of dancing, didn’t play sports, didn’t ski. It wasn’t until I started my yoga teacher training in 2009 that I started to delve into the human form. I got a sweet taste of anatomy during my 200- and 500-hour yoga teacher training programs at Hilltop Yoga, and I deepened my understanding from studying with Tim Miller.

Proprio….neuro…what?

I first heard about the concept of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF), or facilitated stretching, in one of Tim’s “Asana Doctor” workshops. (Read about the history of PNF.) PNF, used by physical therapists and other clinicians, can be applied to yoga. Dr. Long’s website describes it this way:

Stretching applies tension to the muscle and its tendon. There is a nerve receptor (the Golgi tendon organ) that is located at the muscle-tendon junction. This receptor senses tension and relays a signal to the spinal cord. The spinal cord then signals the stretching muscle to relax. This reflex arc acts as a protective circuit breaker to prevent the tendon from tearing at its attachment to the bone. Because all skeletal muscles have Golgi tendon organs, this powerful technique can be applied to gain length and dissolve blockages throughout the body in yoga poses. Use it with caution and care.

So basically, PNF uses a primal response — protecting the health of the body — to essentially trick the spinal cord into sending out a “call off the guard dogs” order. Genius.

Here’s more from BandhaYoga.com:

Facilitated stretching involves contracting a muscle that you are lengthening. This increases the tension at the muscle-tendon junction and recruits more Golgi tendon organs than does stretching a muscle alone. Facilitated stretching causes the spinal cord to signal the muscle to relax, in essence, creating ‘slack’ in the muscle. You can then take up the slack to move deeper into the pose.

I’ve seen yoga students who had little mobility in a pose such as utthita hasta padangustasana deepen to an amazing degree using this technique, which essentially involves the student resisting (in this case of utthita hasta padangustasana, the student would have a little pressure applied to the lifted leg) against the instructor for a short amount of time, then release. This would be done a couple more times before the instructor asks the student to try going into the full expression of the posture. 

Over the weekend, Dr. Long used PNF on my supta kurmasana, and it helped me get farther into this pose than I have ever been able to get before — which is especially cool because I find this pose rather frustrating. Finding a way to better connect with the pose is helpful not just for my body, but my mind.

You can apply PNF yourself, by resisting against your own body — so the technique doesn’t depend on you being in a class or a workshop (though I can tell you from experience it is, of course, better with an experienced teacher).

Connecting with your inner anatomist

Both Ray Long and Tim Miller adhere to the principle that it’s more of a service to teach people how to sleuth rather than give them a long list of facts to memorize. Yoga students and teachers need to be able to look at a postural challenge and work backward, then forward again. What is causing this pain/tweak/limitation? How can this be relieved now? How can this be further refined going forward?

Ultimately, though, I think it’s useful for anyone to have a basic understanding of this stuff. After hundreds of hours of studying yoga over the past two years, I still think that sitting — plain old sitting — is one of the hardest poses to maintain. If we all knew just a little bit more about muscle groups and sources of strain and tension, we might be able to make minor adjustments in our daily lives to relieve pain and perhaps even avoid it in the first place.

Some of the nuggets I took away this weekend:

Know what affects mobility
Three factors affect mobility: the shape of the bones involved, the ligaments involved and the muscles involved. You can’t do anything about shape of bone once you’re an adult, and you don’t want to change ligaments. That’s why we focus on muscles.

You don’t have to enroll in med school to get a handle on anatomy
You only need to know about 20 muscle groups. They’re all interrelated and it’s not as complicated as it looks.

Wash, rinse, dry, repeat
When presented with a postural challenge, approach it logically. As an example:

  • Analyze the pose and isolate what’s involved. (What are the joints doing? What the agonist and antagonist muscles doing?)
  • Gain length where you need to gain length and engage the muscle stabilizers.
  • Assess the effects.

Learn more

My suggestion? Check out the “Scientific Keys” section on BandhaYoga.com, pick up Ray Long’s books (available at BandhaYoga.com and through the YogaRose.net Amazon affiliate store) and get to one of these yoga anatomy workshops if you can.

You can learn about anatomy from a book, but I don’t think it will really resonate if you don’t get the chance to devote time during a class or workshop to sleuthing real-live anatomy puzzles. Plus, Ray takes you through a lovely standing posture sequence to awaken the psoas and you get to enjoy a hypnotic savasana. (I can’t help but note that while I was doing the psoas series this weekend — see the sequence here — I thought it was yet another beautiful example of the benefits of the Ashtanga yoga sequence of standing postures.)

If you’re into social media, you can follow Bandha Yoga:

Whether you’re a yogi or not, happy sleuthing!

© 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.

Ashtanga, NY/USA/World on this 9/11 anniversary

I spent the weekend at Seva Yoga in Grand Rapids, Mich., at a yoga anatomy workshop with Dr. Ray Long and Chris Macivor (blog post coming on this outstanding workshop), and then I had to jet back here to Lansing to teach my Ashtanga primary series class, so I missed today’s 9/11 remembrances — from “real-time tweets” to The New York Times’ special The Reckoning edition.

I did manage to catch this blog post by The Confluence Countdown about Ashtanga, NY, a 2003 documentary that was screened at Ashtanga Yoga New York today  in honor of the 10th anniversary of this terrifying and traumatic attack of global citizens on American soil.

That reminded me that I have this DVD, still wrapped, on my shelf. It’s part of a large stack of Ashtanga-related DVDs that I bought earlier this year and have still not yet watched. It features several celebrities — actors Gwyneth Paltrow and Willem Dafoe and Mike D. of the Beatie Boys (shout-out for the latest Beasties album, which is excellent, in my humble opinion) — and author Stefanie Syman, who wrote The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America.

So, after a late dinner, I remedied this. The 60-minute documentary just ended, and I thought it was very powerful — especially the scene in which, on his last day during his September 2001 visit to New York City, Pattabhi Jois wore an FDNY shirt with his standard teaching shorts.

Steve over at The Confluence Countdown writes this about the documentary:

My understanding of the documentary is that it was intended to follow Guruji’s time spent at the shala; however, as fate would have it, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened during Guruji’s visit. His time in New York, and the documentary, obviously changed.

From my ‘critical’ perspective, that probably compromised the quality of the film as a documentary about Ashtanga and Guruji. But it captured something else and provides one view on New York in the days and weeks immediately after the attacks.

I’ve never met Steve, but I know we agree on a lot of things — starting with the awesomeness of both Tim Miller and the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. We seem to disagree on this, though. I think the quality of the film as a documentary about Ashtanga and Guruji is strengthened by looking at how 9/11 helped the yoga practitioners who are interviewed realize the impact of the practice on their perspective in life.

If anything, I thought there wasn’t enough about 9/11 in this documentary. What I have been told, for example, is that Pattabhi Jois made what is now considered the traditional closing prayer part of the practice after the 9/11 attacks. Is this true? I’d certainly like to know. If it is, I think it speaks to how Ashtanga — often viewed as an unchanging practice — changes in important ways to reflect collective human events. If it’s not true — well, the fact that this is the story I’ve heard could reflect how much people need to find meaning in changes to the Ashtanga yoga system.

More than anything, though, I think the 9/11 inclusion in this documentary speaks to how this practice goes beyond one man or one family. It goes beyond being a deeply personal practice for celebrities who live in a particular city and millions of people around the world. This practice is ultimately about healing — whether it’s on an individual or community level.

Have you seen it? What do you think? I’m sure Steve and I would like a tiebreaker here. :) Haven’t seen it? If you have Netflix, you can watch it without buying it. You can also buy it. Watch it, then share your thoughts.

(P.S. — If you watch it, check out the outtakes special feature. It’s pretty funny if you’re an Ashtanga geek (think Mike D. answering a question about what Guruji would say about shouting into a microphone without doing ujjayi breath). It’s also a great reminder that ashtangis are pretty good about poking a little fun at themselves — it’s an important part of keeping what is literally for some practitioners a life-saving practice fun and light when it needs to be.)

© 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.

 

YogaRose.net Explainer: Keeping up with yoga topics using Google+ Sparks

 

If social media is a part of your life, about the only way you haven’t heard about Google+ is if you’ve had a complete blackout of internet connectivity for the past four months. Google+ is the social network that fans hope/predict will take down Facebook and take over the mantle of social networking goliath.

Because it’s a Google product — with all the web ubiquity that comes with — Google+ is a big deal, whether or not you think it has the potential to KO Facebook. I coordinate the Central Michigan Public Relations Society of America’s social media lunch and learns — a monthly brown bag lunch in which PR professionals get together to learn about new platforms and services — and our September session, held this past Friday, was on Google+. Andrea Ness and Naomi Burton, two of my colleagues at Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications, led the session, which garnered more interest than most topics.

One interesting Google+ feature they noted is Sparks, which Google describes as the feature that “brings you stories on the things you love from all across the Web, so it’s easy to strike up meaningful conversations with your friends.” It occurred to me that perhaps yogis on Google+ would like to know how to use this feature to follow yoga news.

1. Sign up for Google+

Get a Google+ account.

2. Go to Sparks from your profile

From your main Stream page, click “Sparks” on the left.

3. Type in an interest and add it.

In this example here, I’ve typed “Ashtanga” into the search box and clicked on “Add to Interest.” I get a page that includes a video from David Garrigues:

That’s it. Any time you want to check out the latest “sparks” that have popped, head to this same page. For more, read the Google+ guide to Sparks. For more on Google+, see Mashable’s Google+: The Complete Guide.

Related features:
>>Ashtanga Yoga+ Social Media Grid 

© 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.

Ashtanga yoga — apparently, now there is actually an app for that

Michael Gannon Yoga releases iPhone/iPad app
(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)

Mexico-based world traveler and Ashtanga yoga instructor Michael Gannon announced on his website over the Labor Day weekend that he has released the first Ashtanga Yoga Mobile App for the iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. The app, available through the iPhone App Store, costs $2.99.

Features include:

  • Content for beginners and advanced students alike.
  • A free option to download the information from the app into PDF format on your computer.
  • Technical support from NakedBuddha.org, a techie firm (tag line: “the new age just grew up”) whose aim is to “improve people’s psychological and emotional well being by the use of digital products and services.”

YogaRose.net, curator of the just-launched Ashtanga Yoga + Socia Media Grid that includes Gannon in the database of digitally connected ashtangis, wonders if this will make your must-have app list.

(Image via MichaelGannonYoga.com)

© 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.

Transformations: Relating a WordPress.com –> .org switchover with how yoga changed my life

One thing about me — I’m high-risk analogy taker. I will take on an analogy that’s really out there if I think there’s even a chance it might help make a point. Sometimes my analogies work, and sometimes it’s a big FAIL. Let’s see how it goes here, as I attempt to explain my blog’s new hosting arrangement with how a yoga practice can transform our internal mental and spiritual lives.

And if this analogy fails, then you can just skip over it to the end of this post, where I talk about the new Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid curated by yours truly.

First, the analogy.

Relating a WordPress.com –> .org switchover with how yoga changed my life

Last week, if you wanted to come to my blog, you typed “YogaRose.net” into your browser and got here. This week, if you wanted to land here, you would do the same. Nothing has changed, except that you see a new header now.

But this past week, everything has changed under the hood, so to speak. The YogaRose.net blog you’re on now is built on WordPress.org. YogaRose.net blog started out as a free WordPress.com blog, which meant all I had to do to start blogging was sign up for a WordPress.com account. I paid a little money for the YogaRose.net domain name and redirected it to my WordPress.com URL.

I absolutely love WordPress — both the .com and the .org variety, because it fits my aesthetic preferences (compared to other blogs and content management systems) and because it is open-sourced, which means developers around the world keep adding to it and improving it. But what a WordPress.com variety of blog or website gives you in convenience it understandably has to withhold in flexibility.

Setting up a WordPress.org blog takes more time, patience and technical know-how, because you have to host your content somewhere. You get the WordPress software installation free, but you have to pay someone — such as GoDaddy — to host your content. WordPress.org is so powerful though — it’s blog that can function as a stand-alone website. The highly regarded TechCrunch is built on WordPress.org. So is something like the website for the new Hanuman Festival. My colleague Andrea Ness is a WordPress/website developer extraordinaire, because she takes the WordPress.org platform and mixes it with creative elixir that flows from her imagination to create incredible websites like the Michigan Truth Squad and Bridge.

In any case, I’ve been plenty inspired by what I could do with this blog if I converted it to the .org platform. But time is an issue. It always is, and I just couldn’t justify everything else I would have to put off to do my own move. This is where some folks whose titles are actually — as far as I can tell — “Happiness Engineers,” come in. You can pay these fantastic WordPress Happiness Engineers to do all the heavy lifting for you so that your readers don’t notice a thing.

WordPress guided transfer fee: $119.
Annual hosting charges: Less than $55.
Finally being able to create the Ashtanga yoga social media database that I’ve wanted to create: Priceless.

Things I couldn’t do without the WordPress.org platform:

Like many other ashtangis have done, I’ve discovered that at some point, there’s a deep internal transformation that takes place from a consistent Ashtanga yoga practice. There are so many little and big things you thought you couldn’t do before that you suddenly could — whether it’s a physical thing, such as floating from downward facing dog into bakasana (crane pose), or whether it’s an emotional thing, such as being able to be less reactive to an infuriating interpersonal conflict.

From the outside, I looked the same — but consider the different way I viewed the world and processed information. Human life is about dealing with obstacles and challenges while trying to stay true to who you are and still trying to improve yourself — and it helps to do all that when you have a more robust life management system built on a platform as brilliant as the eight-limbed path of Ashtanga yoga. Hand in hand with the investment is that it takes a lot more maintenance to go this route. The traditional Ashtanga practice is six days a week, and due to my really intense schedule, I end up practicing by myself much of the time, sneaking in a practice at all different hours of the day. In the end, though, it’s absolutely worth fitting your life around yoga rather than the other way around.

Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid

So I’ve had a busy Labor Day weekend (spent mostly in Traverse City, Mich., with my very sweet future in-laws) that has ended with a marathon 24-hour period of renovating YogaRose.net in general and building this curated Ashtanga yoga social media database.

Let me know what you think of the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid. In the meantime, I have to catch up on my sleep so that I can dive back into another intense work week tomorrow morning.

© 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.

Mt. Shasta –>Work (Why is reentry so hard?)

It’s been way too long since my last blog post, which I wrote on the last day of my Mt. Shasta-based Ashtanga second series retreat. It was such a luxury to have the time to hike, take bubble baths (!), start each day with two-and-a-half hours of yoga and write a daily blog post. I returned home last Monday evening and went to work the next morning. I can summarize the time since with just one word.

Slammed. 

Work has been so intense. (I always say that, and it is nearly always true.) Yesterday, in the midst of other looming deadlines, my colleagues and I helped staff four concurrent news conferences aimed at getting more kids enrolled in one of the state’s free or low-cost health insurance programs. (By the way, if you know any family who would benefit from this program, please help spread the word. About 127,000 children across Michigan don’t have health insurance.) It’s been really, truly rewarding to work on this project. But it has admittedly consumed so much of my time of late, and it’s just one of several projects I have right now with lots and lots of moving parts.

No matter what you come back to, I’ve found that the post-yoga-getaway period triggers the same realization time and again: reentry is hard. In a retreat setting, you’re not in many situations that test your level of reactivity. I mean, what was confrontational about Heart Lake in the Mt. Shasta region? When you return to your daily grind after this, it’s especially jarring every time your reactivity is tested — whether it has to do with deadlines queuing up or things not going according to plan.

In any case, though I’ve had radio silence here, I did squeeze in some updates over on the YogaRose.net Facebook page — such as the news that the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is now sold out (hope you got in, if you had wanted to get in!). I also shared that news with the Ashtanga Yoga Professionals group on the professional social networking service LinkedIn. If I had had more time (I already don’t get enough sleep as it is), I would have done a blog post by now about how there is still room in Tim Miller’s October trip to Tuscany (please note this link opens as a PDF).

Even when I’m too swamped to produce much of my own personal social media pushes, though, I still consume when I can. One of the many reasons I love social media is that it keeps me connected to ashtangis around the world. And it has seemed that the more I’ve had to hunker down over the past several days, the more Steve and Bobbie over at the Confluence Countdown have been stepping it up in terms of blog post volume and frequency. And thank goodness, because I needed something for my post-Shasta fix.

Have I mentioned that reentry is hard?

P.S. — This has nothing to do with Ashtanga yoga, but now that I have you here, maybe you’ll want to check out the public service announcement about Enroll Michigan and getting kids signed up for MIChild or Healthy Kids. Anything you can do to spread the word could really end up helping a family in need.

© 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.

Departures and arrivals

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As I am starting to write this post — with just one minute left until midnight — I just received a text from a fellow Mt. Shasta retreater saying she just arrived where she was headed to. She sounds happy but tired, which is how I feel as well, sitting with my sister and my brother-in-law in their living room. Our retreat officially ended this morning with what’s become known as a circle of tears. A box of Kleenex gets passed around, and tears are shed as each retreat participant offers a few words about their week. Once eyes are dried, everyone grabs a quick breakfast in the garden across from our lovely hotel and then zips back to their room to pack. In between, several rounds of goodbyes are shared and Facebook friend requests are made from our mobile phones before we finally face the reality that we have to leave.

In my case, I had more than five hours of driving to do so that I could see my sister, who just so happens to be celebrating her birthday today. It’s been years since I’ve been able to be with my sister on her actual birthday, and I am grateful for this chance this year.

I didn’t post at the end of Friday, the final full day, because too much was going on. Too many great late-night conversations. I have thoughts from today but I’ll have to owe you a raincheck on that too.

Suffice it to say that this retreat ended without ending — for each of us as individuals, and for this blog space. I’ll be posting more about the retreat as soon as I get some time. In the meantime, don’t forget to keep checking out Steve and Bobbi’s blog posts about the first week of the retreat.

Final thought for now: if you’ve never been to this retreat but have had your curiosity piqued, it’s never too early to start plotting how to get here and experience Mt. Shasta with Tim Miller for yourself next year. Check out the info on this year’s retreat, along with contact info for more information. Mt. Shasta is one of those places where it’s about the journey, yes, but about the destination too.

In this series:


© 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.

Feeding the body, mind and spirit: An exercise in less is more

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On the first day of this Ashtanga yoga retreat held in the sacred space of California’s Mt. Shasta region, Tim Miller explained the itineraries for yoga practices, open discussions, hiking trips and — last but not least — meals. He told us the retreat aims to feed our body, mind and spirit.

We have been fed in abundance when it comes to fodder for the mind and spirit. Not so when it comes to sustenance for the body.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve eaten very well, with breakfast buffets that have included yogurt parfaits, lunches with veggie goat cheese wraps and dinners featuring risotto and corn cakes. What’s key, however, is that we’ve been fed, but not overfed.

The result? With just a day and a half left in this weeklong retreat, my gastrointestinal system feels better than it has in a long time. My acid reflux hasn’t acted up at all. My little purple pills — my prescription Nexium — have stayed in the little Altoid case I use to hold my assortment of reflux pills, vitamins, and the like.

I’m not the worst eater you’ll find — it’s not as if I live on fast food back home — but I am not the poster child of someone who maintains an enviable diet either. With the exception of the occasional omelet or scrambled egg plate, I don’t cook. If I do make something for myself at home, it’s most frequently achieved by assembling wraps, sandwiches and the like.

But my real downfall when it comes to food is portion size. I have that skewed American perspective of what constitutes an acceptable meal. It’s the perspective that makes us as a society view plates of food the way you might see things in a carnival funhouse — totally out of proportion. This was totally driven home to me during a visit in 2005 to Thailand, where my parents were raised. The portion sizes all seemed to be about a quarter of the typical American meal.

And yet I returned from that trip and continued eating the way I aways have.

This week, however, I have avoided getting seconds when that’s been an option, and I have been moderate about desserts. I usually skip the bag of chips put out with our bag lunches. Even though I’ve been expending a great deal of calories through our daily yoga practices and our hikes, I haven’t been hungry at all — proving once again that so much of what we think is our body talking is really our mind talking.

When it comes to healthy eating, food, much like words, falls into the category of less is more. I’m going to take this feeling and these meal habits to heart when I return home and try to get myself on a better eating routine than I currently have.

Sleep, on the other hand, does not for me fall into the category of less is more. Since I’m getting up at 6 a.m. for our last pranayama (breathing) class, I should call it a day. Goodnight.

In this series:


© 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.

Economic bubbles, bubble baths and a breath of fresh air

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This sounds ridiculous — because it is. But I just enjoyed a bubble bath in which I played my Radiohead channel on my iPhone Pandora app (great app for traveling, by the way) as I read about today’s major stock market drops seen in the United States and across European powerhouses.

It’s quite the juxtaposition to read about financial markets tanking while out here in McCloud, Calif. — where you always have a view of Mt. Shasta, considered a deeply spiritual place by Native American cultures — with no real obligations except to feed your body, mind and spirit with Ashtanga yoga practices, discussion on yoga philosophy and hikes that take you past sweeping vistas and natural springs.

There are times when I go on vacation and completely disconnect — not even so much as sending a tweet. There are also vacations such as this one where I feel less taxed if I can touch base with the outside world now and then. As a former journalist, I feel pretty strongly that it takes an informed citizenry to foster a strong open government. I don’t want to pretend that terrible riots haven’t been taking place in London, and I don’t want to miss out on the broader discussion about the role social media played in the unfolding of the violence.

After an afternoon of hiking through beautiful expanses of wildflowers, it’s interesting to think about whether Ashtanga yoga brings heightened relevance to current events, or whether a retreat such as this one allows yogis like me to sidestep the realities of the world for a few blissful days.

You’ll be shocked — shocked! — (guess I didn’t leave my sarcasm in Michigan) to hear me say that I think a yoga practice that speaks to the traditional eight limbs of yoga is not at all a withdrawal from the world’s very real challenges. If anything, what yoga allows us to do is continually improve ourselves on the deepest level, and in that way, make an important contribution to the greater social good.

How does that work?

During our evening class tonight, the discussion eventually led to the question of what the sutras that guide the yogic system say about the causes of vrittis. The most accepted definition of yoga is that it is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. Those fluctuations of the mind — the vrittis — lead to a lot of problems. Lots and lots of problems.

What causes the fluctuations? A pretty long list of states, such as illness, stagnation, impatience, incorrect viewpoint, etc.

Tim Miller asked our group about people who are not at all connected to their body. If they are not in their own body, where are they?

Yep — they are solidly in their head.

Tim called it “Vritti-ville,” which made us laugh (yeah, yeah, yoga humor. Trust me, it’s funny if you do yoga. :-) ).

I know it can seem like a bit of hypocrisy to say that yoga is not about contorting the body when the series of Ashtanga get increasingly more challenging and does demand that the practitioner do postures worthy of Cirque du Soleil. But as Tim said tonight, “In Ashtanga yoga, we keep pushing the envelope of proprioception. The point is to cultivate the refinement of proprioceptive abilities.”

Proprioception is basically awareness of one’s own body — the ability to know what the parts of the body are doing without looking in a mirror.

Achieving these increasingly difficult yoga postures requires so much — including focus, practice, patience and not only a deep awareness of the breath, but ability to control the breath and the body’s energy locks. And as Tim reminded us tonight, thanks to the body-mind connection, we can indirectly control the mind by controlling the breath.

I often think about the corporate world when I think about the benefits of yoga. I’ve worked with people didn’t seem to have any idea how to read the signals of their own body, which led to them not being able to create a circuit-breaker for high stress levels. This, in turn, triggered desperate attempts to cope with that stress by being very reactive and lashing out at people around them. I think that if everyone in corporate America had to practice yoga and learn to read their body and connect to their breath, we could potentially create more compassionates cultures in our workplaces — and that would make a real difference in quality of life for millions of people.

I am not so idealistic that I think we would attain world peace if everyone simply started to practice yoga, nor do I think we could eliminate man-made calamities such as stock market crashes if yoga were more popular. But if everyone took it upon themselves to find something in their life to help them connect to their body in a meaningful and disciplined way — be it yoga, martial arts, sports training or dancing — we might have more balanced tendencies as a society.

Like everyone else, I have a long way to go to become a zen master. When I come to a retreat like this one, it is for selfish reasons. Absolutely. Out of that selfishness, however, I am hopefully a better person in general, and hopefully those around me also benefit by having a less reactive Rose on their hands.

By the way, I chose a bubble bath tonight that had eucalyptus and arnica in it to soothe my sore muscles. Don’t let the moniker “retreat” fool you — with Tim Miller, a retreat involves getting up at 6:30 a.m. for 2.5 hours of a physical (asana) and a breath (pranayama) practice, followed by an afternoon hike (some of which kick your asana, as you know if you read my post yesterday), and an evening class built around questions and discussions.

This retreat is work, and what you get out of it depends on what you invest in it. If you were considering coming to this second series retreat or the primary series retreat in 2012 or beyond, I can guarantee that you’ll get a far better rate of return on your dollar than any stock that exists out there.

In this series:


© 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 girl and a guru

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“That’s the great thing about Mt. Shasta — the veil of illusion becomes gossamer thin.”

–Tim Miller, the first westerner certified by Pattabhi Jois to teach Ashtanga, Aug 9, 2011 during a class discussion on the kleshas (afflictions) described in the Yoga Sutras

I’ve always been drawn to allegories. Today, I hiked into one.

The morning started out as every morning during this Mt. Shasta retreat yoga led by Tim Miller — with half an hour of pranayama (breathing exercises), and a two-hour physical practice (a guided Ashtanga second series class alternates days with a Mysore, or independent-paced, practice). Sunday’s first class of the retreat — a led class — was pretty rough for me. I felt I had the quality of tamas — lethargy, stagnation. Yesterday I did primary series during the Mysore session, which somehow went even worse. It seems I left my proprioceptive awareness in Michigan, because Tim was working with me on the most basic postures. He totally called me out on my virabhadrasana A (warrior A) posture by coming to my mat and saying, “What is this? A baby warrior?”

Incredibly, this morning’s second series practice felt downright lovely — challenging, with a deep payoff in body, mind and spirit. I was grateful, because one of the reasons I came to this retreat was to discover how to more deeply connect with second series. At the moment, it’s a practice I respect but don’t exactly enjoy doing. I guess on some level, I don’t know if it’s the practice for me to focus on right now.

After breakfast and a short break, we went on our hike of the day. There were two options: hang out at Castle Lake, which required no hike after you parked your car, or hike to Heart Lake (named because it is lake shaped like a heart), which was described as a short but steep hike.

A couple of my fellow yogis decided to take the first option, because a fairly strenuous hike was not what their body needed. I figured what my body needed most was a hot stone massaged, but, short of that, a hike represented the next best thing I could do for my body and mind. Ever the indecisive person that I am, I decided to split the difference — I would start walking and see if I felt like continuing.

I quickly became the last straggler going up this route. I had maybe gone a third of the way up and decided I would turn around — wasn’t feeling like this hike was for me right now. I didn’t have the enthusiasm needed to make this not feel like a ton of work.

After mentally checking out, but before I turned my body around, I looked up, and saw a single figure up the hill. It looked like Tim’s hat and his Hanuman T-shirt. Was he waiting for me? The last two people who had walked up the hill had probably past that point 5 or 10 minutes before. Well crap, I thought to myself, if that was the case, I couldn’t turn around now.

When I reached Tim standing there stoically, I asked if he was waiting for the last person.

“I didn’t want anyone to miss the turn,” he said. He stood right where the trail forked, and the path to the left looked as well-traveled as the one to the right.

Tim turned around and started up the hill, and I followed without saying anything for a while — partly because I was breathless from the steep climb, partly because I was feeling pretty lame for being so far behind. Tim has better things to do than wait for someone who after all these years still needs to work on dandasana (staff pose).

As we got closer and closer — the light at the end of the tunnel for me — I said, “Thank you again for waiting. I’m sorry I kept you.”

In his signature non-reactive way, Tim said, “No problem.”

He added, “I like going slow.”

I didn’t care how big that heart-shaped lake we were walking toward turned out to be — I knew with absolute clarity that I was already next to Mt. Shasta’s biggest heart.

In this series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 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 flexibility of fearlessness

Check out the roughly 40-foot (that’s a best guess) drop of Middle Falls, located in the McCloud River Loop, where our group hiked today, the second full day of this Mt. Shasta Ashtanga second series retreat.

Now check out yoga studio owner Jayson Barniske from Brawley, Calif., as he jumped into the water after climbing up the ledges:

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I did a quick Google search and apparently, fearless kayakers like to careen down the falls. I find that absolutely incredible.

I seek fearlessness on a much smaller, perhaps even imperceptible scale to most. I recently “finished” (note: I did not say “graduate from” :-) ) an adult swimming class, and yesterday I faced another fear: getting into a sweat lodge. I had been in one once and had a horrible time — it reminded me of not being able to breath during an asthma attack when I was a kid, and that triggered anxiety and panic. I swore I would never do the whole sweat lodge thing again, ever. Yesterday, I not only went back into one, I stayed the whole time. I didn’t say “door” to be let out, as I thought I would surely have to. I found it really powerful, and I think it helped loosen some of the emotional barnacles I wanted to dislodge on this trip.

But I was sort of second-guessing myself earlier today and wondering whether it’s sort of pathetic, these fears I’ve been working on recently. Swimming and a sweat lodge? Really, Rose? Suck it up already. In the scheme of human challenges, these two are barely specs of dust, overshadowed by mountains of real fears, like war, famine and so many types of unspeakable calamities.

In my less self-critical moments, I think about my issue with getting into water and getting into a small confined space that feels like it’s slowly being filled with a suffocating heat as deep-seated fears that invoke abhinivesha, the yogic concept that can be viewed as fear of death or change. In cases like these, I think opening the mind up can be process similar to opening up the body. In a yoga practice, we are trying to increase our own range of motion — be it in our hips, our shoulders or our perspective.

Looking at someone else and wishing you had their flexibility or their fearlessness won’t make that happen for you. Persistence and patience on the mat can help chisel away at your hard-as-rocks shoulders and it can start to erase snippets of a negative reel constantly running through your mind.

Perhaps fittingly, Tim Miller reminded us today that in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that “Better one’s own duty (dharma) though deficient, than the duty of another well performed.”

Back to the waterfalls today. It was a blast to watch Jayson and also Amy Williams, who owns a yoga studio in Provo, Utah, make that jump. I wasn’t quick enough on the draw to get Amy mid-flight, but here she is at the top:

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She seemed to have so much fun getting to that spot, and she seemed to effortlessly jump in. When Amy came up out of the water onto the comfy rocks the rest of us were watching this dive show from, we asked her how it felt. She said fine — cold, but fine.

“I’ll take this over second series any day,” she said with a big smile.

And yet here she is on this second series retreat. Huge props in my book.


In this series:


© 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.

‘Volcanic legacy’

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I got a kick out of this sign I saw yesterday on the drive toward McCloud, Calif., home base for a week of learning about Ashtanga second series — with some gorgeous hiking on Mt. Shasta interspersed each day. Getting closer to Mt. Shasta, which is a dormant volcano, made me think of different kinds of heat and their effects. My first thoughts were drawn to the kind of fiery energy that’s not so productive — a fiery explosion that causes destruction.

I know a thing or two about a fiery energy of the emotional kind. Ask anyone who has ever had the misfortune of being in the car while I was driving angry. I get worked up about something and get enraged and I spew harsh, negative energy. What good does it do?

I’ve been trying to work on it, and I do better some days than others. My father used to say I was born in the year of the dragon, and I had a temper to match a dragon’s fiery breath. Yoga helps. Being around people who are always calm and have their wits about them helps.

I hope eventually, my emotionally volcanic days are also a mere legacy and not an active status. :-)

In the yogic tradition, there’s another kind of fire that is productive because it purifies. It’s called tapas. That’s a far better kind of heat, and it’s the type of heat I am especially seeking this week.

Speaking of which, it’s time for our first morning class — guided Ashtanga second series, followed by a short road trip to a sweat lodge.

>>Read about the first week of this year’s Mt. Shasta retreat from the Confluence Countdown team.

In this series:


© 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 girl, a volcano and a ring

I am headed to Mt. Shasta, located in the upper reaches of California and rising more than 14,000 feet. Tim Miller and his sweet wife, Carol, lead two trips each year to this mesmerizing place. They spend one week with folks who want to hike and explore a dormant volcano while practicing Ashtanga primary series, and another week with folks who want to focus on Ashtanga second series.

I chose the second series option for a few reasons. For one thing, I want to learn more about second series, a sequence with backbends, extreme hip openers and arm balances requiring you to be the boss of your core, center of gravity. The sequence intrigues me and frustrates me. Maybe practicing second series in a different place will help me reset that relationship. But I don’t expect the process to be easy. (I asked for permission to attend this week, since I still have a couple postures in primary series I am working on — supta baddha konasana being the main one — and since there are a few postures in second series I can barely even approach. Access was granted, and the course was set.)

The other is timing. I’ve decided I should try this whole settling down thing. I traveled to Encinitas, Calif. last year to spend two weeks in a primary series teacher training, and I’ve given myself this year to find the yoga adventures I want to find — second series is top of that list — and then set my wanderlust aside, at least for now. (Part of me had hoped I could fit a trip to Mysore, India, but I’ve let that go. Maybe later in my life.)

I used to set artificial deadlines for myself — by this age I want to so-and-so, and by this time of my life I hope so-and-so — but adulthood taught me the perils of doing that. You can only control what you control. This isn’t an artificial timeline — it feels right.

So I’ve come to Mt. Shasta to be in Timji’s orbit to practice second series — “nadi shodhana” in Sanskrit. Nerve cleansing. Unlocking dormant energies so they can transform into something positive. I am pretty sure something is going to erupt this week. And I am pretty sure it won’t be Mt. Shasta. (Though if Mt. Shasta does blow, I promise to try to live-blog or at least live-tweet the historic event. 😉 )

Why do I feel ready to face this now?

That’s where the ring comes in. I am a ridiculously fortunate girl to get a fresh start on a new adventure with someone who is as rock -and-roll bad-ass — and yet somehow deeply deeply zen — as they come.

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In this series:

© 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer: What does ‘RYT’ after a yoga teacher’s name mean?

I have officially received my 500-hour certificate of completion from the Hilltop Yoga teacher training program and I officially registered that status with Yoga Alliance last week — which means I am officially allowed to use this logo you see here, and I am officially listed accordingly in the Yoga Alliance database of teachers:

But what does that designation even mean? Here’s YogaRose.net Explainer‘s take.

What does it mean when yoga teachers have “RYT®” after their name?  

When you see RYT® after a yoga instructor’s name, it stands, not too surprisingly, for “Registered Yoga Teacher.” RYT is registered by Yoga Alliance, an organization formed in 1999 that describes itself as a “national education and support organization for yoga in the United States.” The organization’s mission statement continues:

We work in the public interest to ensure that there is a thorough understanding of the benefits of yoga, that the teachers of yoga value its history and traditions and that the public can be confident of the quality and consistency of instruction.

There has been so much controversy — yoga drama! — around this designation. I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s first deal with the straightforward questions.

I’ve seen RYT 200 and RYT 500. What do the numbers refer to?

Yoga Alliance has created a national registry of Registered Yoga Schools (RYS®). These schools have to submit an application demonstrating that their teacher training program adheres to certain guidelines that include the number of contact and non-contact hours with instructors who meet certain faculty requirements. Once approved to train students at the 200- or 500-hour level, they are able to graduate students who, in turn, can register with Yoga Alliance and use the RYT designation.

Instructors can hold certification after 200 hours or 500 hours of a program that includes training in five categories:

Techniques Training & Practice: Includes asana, pranayama, kriyas, chanting, mantra, meditation and other traditional yoga techniques. Hours may include (1) analytical training in how to teach and practice the techniques, and (2) guided practice of the techniques themselves.

Teaching Methodology: Includes principles of demonstration, observation, assisting/correcting, instruction, teaching styles, qualities of a teacher, the student’s process of learning and business aspects of teaching yoga.

Anatomy & Physiology: Includes both human physical anatomy and physiology (bodily systems, organs, etc.) and energy anatomy and physiology (chakras, nadis, etc.). This includes both the study of the subject and application of its principles to yoga practice (benefits, contraindications, healthy movement patterns, etc).

Yoga Philosophy, Lifestyle and Ethics for Yoga Teachers: Includes the study of yoga philosophies, yoga lifestyle and ethics for yoga teachers.

Practicum: Includes practice teaching, receiving feedback, observing others teaching and hearing/giving feedback. Also includes assisting students while someone else is teaching.

By the way, there are other designations as well: E-RYT 200 is someone trained at the 200-hour level but has, in addition to that, taught for two years and taught for 1,000 hours. An E-RYT 500 must have taught for four years after completing the 500-hour certification, and shown 2,000 hours worth of teaching experience. There are also designations for those who teach children’s yoga (RCYT) and prenatal yoga (RPYT). See a table breaking it all down.

Does an instructor need the RYT designation to teach yoga?

Generally speaking, no. Institutions ranging from gyms to schools to dedicated yoga studios offer yoga classes, and they determine who they hire. So individual organizations determine if this designation is necessary. Will that change down the road? As yoga becomes more popular and increasingly mainstream, and as more and more teacher training programs pop up, I have to imagine that competition for teaching spots will start to increase to a point where having this certification is seen as a “yoga resume boost” of some sort.

Specifically speaking, some styles of yoga have their own standards for when a person is allowed to teach. In the Ashtanga yoga system, the Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute based in Mysore, India, has an official list of teachers who have gone through the rigorous process and made the necessary commitments leading to receiving the blessing to teach.

Can American instructors teach Ashtanga without that imprimatur? They certainly do — and I am a good example of this. I have never been to Mysore — not that I wouldn’t love to, but you pretty much have to be a full-time yoga teacher willing to spend months at a time in Mysore over several years to receive this authorization — and unless something drastic changes in my life, I will never be able to get on the track of being “certified” or “authorized” (two different levels granted to teachers by the institute).

Now, should instructors be allowed to teach Ashtanga if they don’t have the official authorization? Many in the Ashtanga community would say that no, someone who is not on the official list should not be teaching. That could be a whole blog post unto itself.

Those studying the Iyengar yoga method have their own set of rigorous standards.

Should someone try to stick to classes taught by instructors with RYT or E-RYT?

Here is where this YogaRose.net Explainer post stops reporting the facts and moves to inserting opinion. Just as some of the smartest people I have known don’t have a college degree — whether it’s due to life circumstances or they were unwilling to jump through academic hoops — some of the most compelling yoga teachers out there would never — ever (ever!) — register. Read why one particularly vocal (to say the least) yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, has argued that “standardization is scary.”

Should you not check out someone’s class just because they don’t have this Yoga Alliance designation? Absolutely not. Should you go to someone’s class just because they do? Absolutely not. You need to find yoga teachers who are steeped in the practice themselves and know their stuff — teachers who have your best interest at heart, who help you progress at your pace, and who communicate in a way that speaks to you (among a host of other factors).

Do I hope or expect more students come to my classes now because I am a registered yoga teacher at the 500-hour level? Again, absolutely not. I hope students come because of how much I truly love and believe in the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system, how passionate I am about sharing this practice, and how much I try to share, both in the studio and through this blog, what I know (and to say when I don’t know). I hope they come because I try to find out what they are working on, what they need, what they are curious about, and what confuses them, so that we can work through all that together. And if my style isn’t for them, I hope they find a teacher who does fit what they need.

If you feel that way, why did you bother getting the 500-hour certification?

That is a good question. And it requires a long answer. I will try to get to that in a separate blog post. :-)

You promised to tell us about some yoga drama. I’ve already spent a lot of time on this post. Where’s this controversy?

You are right — you have read through a lot of text!  Thanks for bearing with YogaRose.net Explainer.

I’ll first note that everyone I’ve dealt with at Yoga Alliance, and those I’ve interacted with in the burgeoning online community that Yoga Alliance is trying to nurture, have been helpful, supportive and insightful.

That said, I think it is fair to say that Yoga Alliance as an organization is not well-loved in the yoga community.

For an overview on the bad feelings that exist, read YogaDork’s post from earlier this year, “Make Up or Break Up: Yoga Alliance, What Have You Done for Us Lately?” Perhaps one of the biggest issues, which this YogaDork post mentions in passing, is that a contingent in the yoga community at large blames Yoga Alliance for opening up the Pandora’s box of states starting to require yoga studios to register their teacher training programs, which costs studios money and places them on the radar of state regulatory authorities. To understand this aspect of the debate, read this New York Times story from 2009 about the fight over yoga certification in New York:

The conflict started in January when a Virginia official directed regulators from more than a dozen states to an online national registry of schools that teach yoga and, in the words of a Kansas official, earn a ‘handsome income.’

[Hold on! YogaRose.net Explainer feels compelled to insert a commentary on this point: This Kansas official was clearly misinformed. Yoga teachers can be well-paid — those who give private lessons to celebrities, for instance, or those who own their own studios (depends on the demographics of the community and the popularity of the studio, of course). There are yoga teachers who do not own their own studios, but teach full-time and can make a decent living (I should note, however, that they usually do not receive health benefits or other benefits that other full-time workers usually receive). For the most part, I don’t think yoga teachers earn a ‘handsome income.’ Far from it. There are teaching arrangements in which instructors are guaranteed a minimum, such as in this example, or — better yet — a minimum plus but a certain amount (say, $3, per student above a certain number of students). There are also arrangements in which instructors teach a class but — depending on the promotions or coupons the students in the class used to pay for the class — don’t take home any pay. Not a dime. It’s a reality of the system. If this topic piques your interest, glance at this 2010 elephant journal blog post about whether yoga teachers should unionize, based on speculation sparked when highly respected yoga instructor Annie Carpenter left YogaWorks — note that the comments are meatier than the post.]

Until then, only a few states had been aware of the registry and had acted to regulate yoga instruction, though courses in other disciplines like massage therapy have long been subject to oversight.

The registry was created by the Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit group started in 1999 to establish teaching standards in an effort to have the industry regulate itself. In a recent newsletter, the alliance warned its members that nationwide licensing might be inevitable, ‘forcing this ancient tradition to conform to Western business practices.’

‘We made it very, very easy for them to do what they’re doing right now,’ said Leslie Kaminoff, founder of the Breathing Project, a nonprofit yoga center in New York City, who had opposed the formation of the Yoga Alliance. ‘The industry of yoga is a big, juicy target.’

For more on the state certification issues — which I can’t even begin to get into here — start with the It’s All Yoga, Baby blog post from 2010 on “texas hold’em: yoga teachers stand up to govt regulation,” check out another YogaDork post from 2010 on a meeting with Yoga Alliance President John Matthews (scroll down this page to see someone’s pencil drawing of Matthews — seriously?) and read some of the comments in this yoga teacher training forum.

The Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita tell us that the ultimate aim of yoga is to help us reach a state of liberation by realizing that we are all essentially cut from the same cosmic cloth. Clearly, when it comes to the politics of certifying yoga teachers in America, we’re reminded of how very human, and how very of this earth, we all are. It’s OK, though — I’d rather see the spirited discussions than everyone accepting without exception, because it shows that if nothing else, we’re passionate about our yoga practice and our efforts to ensure that those who teach yoga are qualified to do so.

© 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 took my breath away today: The schedule of the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The fine folks organizing the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence announced today that registration is now open.

I just read the schedule. You should too, because it will take your breath away.

Basically, you’re getting the chance to study with five of the most amazing Ashtanga teachers on this planet — Richard Freeman, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, David Swenson and Eddie Stern. You get to deepen your understanding of everything from asana, pranayama, puja ceremonies and the Hindu deities Ganesh and Hanuman. And you’ll get to hear music by MC Yogi.

You’ll be doing all this while staying at the Catamaran Resort Hotel & Spa in San Diego. I’m actually less excited by the venue because as amazing as it looks, the organizers could have held the conference in Alaska (if you know me, you know I am not a fan of cold weather of any sort) and I would be as excited.

When this conference was first announced, “first annual” was not included in the title. The fact that this is currently envisioned as an event every year is pretty awe-inspiring. Start saving now!

Seriously, I am really having to really focus right now to take deep breaths. This is incredible.

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© 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 thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day’

Why do yoga? For the health benefits? To try to achieve a particular physique? To escape our daily stresses?

Eddie Stern, who is an author and the director of Ashtanga Yoga New York, wrote this piece last year in the Huffington Post:

While in America there are certainly are many practicing yoga with profound sincerity, it seems as though they are dwarfed by a multi-billion dollar industry that is largely focused on, well, selling stuff that we don’t really need to practice yoga.

Anyway, let it be. That spirit of commercialism and consumerism has helped to make yoga a household word, and that’s not an entirely bad thing. I believe that increased accessibility to yoga is a positive result of yoga’s modernization.

Why do I believe this? Because everyone experiences suffering. Suffering is undiscriminating and it comes to all who live on this planet. Yoga affirms, though, that there is a way to deal with it: by practicing yoga poses, by breathing consciously for a few minutes each day, and by being attentive, thoughtful human beings, we can mitigate the mental torments we all experience.

What I loved about this post in the Huffington Post — one of the most influential blogs out there right now — is that Stern cuts to the chase about what yoga is about to an audience not necessarily primed for it.

During the week-long training I took with David Swenson in 2009, someone asked him what his elevator pitch for Ashtanga yoga is. I thought then and I still think now that it was a good question — because there are inevitably times when talking to someone who is curious about yoga when you can say the right thing to pique their interest enough that they commit to at least try it once.

Yoga as a system is designed to do nothing less than liberate us. By connecting breaths to movement, yoga helps us to focus on our breath and free us from the relentless invasion of thoughts and worries that invade our mind-space — even if that freedom lasts for a few seconds or for a few minutes while we are practicing on our mat.

Moksha is the Sanskrit word for liberation. The entry for “moksha” in B.K.S. Iyengar’s gorgeous, must-read book Light on Life says, “See freedom.”

I love what Iyengar writes in the chapter “Living in Freedom”:

I have suggested that moksha is a thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day — the ice cream returned to the freezer or the bitter retort left unsaid.

He also later reiterates that moksha is “training in detaching ourselves from the sufferings of everyday life, in a thousand ways.”

I really like that. Maybe I should make that my elevator pitch for what yoga is and why it’s worth practicing.

I have so much more I would say but I am writing blog post on my iPhone while relaxing at the beach. Moksha indeed.

Hope you find your own little freedom on this Independence Day — and every day.

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(Photo credit: By Evaporation Blues)

© 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X [Round 2]: What’s vinyasa, power yoga and Ashtanga all about? How do I tell the difference?

YogaRose.net Explainer Wordle

I’ve received so much feedback since writing my blog post on P90X Yoga X that I thought it might be helpful to do a part 2 blog post answering a few of the common questions people have.

What is a vinyasa?

In the P90X Yoga X DVD, Tony Horton refers to going through a vinyasa. It can be confusing, because “vinyasa” can refer to moving in between poses, it can refer to a style of yoga, and sometimes you see Ashtanga yoga referred to as Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga.

There are many ways to explain it, but Shiva Rea does a concise job in an article titled “Consciousness in Motion“:

‘Vinyasa’ is derived from the Sanskrit term nyasa, which means ‘to place,’ and the prefix vi, ‘in a special way’—as in the arrangement of notes in a raga, the steps along a path to the top of a mountain, or the linking of one asana to the next. In the yoga world the most common understanding of vinyasa is as a flowing sequence of specific asanas coordinated with the movements of the breath. The six series of Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga are by far the best known and most influential.

You might see “vinyasa” described as “flow,” which refers to the fact that in this style of yoga, you flow from one posture to the next using the breath as the link. If you go to a new yoga studio and it lists vinyasa classes, these classes will connect breath and movement, generally by starting off with sun salutations, going into a sequence that is perhaps repeated a few times (though not necessarily) and then ending with finishing postures to cool the body down in preparation for savasana, or corpose pose, which ends the practice. People also use “vinyasa” to simply refer to the transitions between postures.

What kind of yoga is done in the P90X Yoga X video? Is it Ashtanga yoga? 

No, it is not Ashtanga. The fitness guide that comes in the P90X package refers to the opening section as “Astanga Sun Salutations.” (By the way, “Astanga” is an alternate spelling of “Ashtanga.” Both are correct, but you see it spelled “Ashtanga” far more frequently.) The sun salutations, in my opinion, have the spirit of Ashtanga sun salutations A (surya namaskara A), but to be true Ashtanga sun salutes, you would have to come back to standing in between each one rather than go right into the next one. You would also have to hold each down dog for five breaths. In a traditional Ashtanga practice, you do five sun salutation As and five sun salutation Bs (which add a warrior posture and utkatasana, or chair pose, into the flow).

Is the rest of it Ashtanga yoga?

No. Not even close. Ashtanga yoga refers to a set sequence of postures. If you’re curious about which postures appear in Ashtanga, take a look at this PDF of the Ashtanga primary series (there are several series of Ashtanga, but most people practice primary and second series). Yoga Journal provides this quick overview, and this Ashtanga.com backgrounder provides a deeper level of info on the design of the practice and all that it encompasses.

Now that we’re on this subject, is power yoga, Ashtanga yoga and vinyasa yoga the same thing?

Nope. I’ve seen plenty of references that go something like this: “Ashtanga, or power, yoga…” or “Power yoga, also described as “Ashtanga yoga…” “Ashtanga” is a specific system and it is not interchangeable with “power” or “vinyasa.” You might think of vinyasa as the broadest term, the one that refers most generally to linking breath and movement in a sequence. Power yoga is a vinyasa-style yoga, and, based on what I know, it was coined around the same time but separately by two yogis: Bryan Kest and Beryl Bender Birch. Bryan Kest refers to power yoga this way:

Power Yoga is directed at creating the highest level of energy, vitality and freedom. The only way to do this is to work with yourself, not against yourself.

Hilaire Lockwood, who owns Hilltop Yoga where I practice and teach, describes it this way:

Power yoga is often misunderstood. The power in power yoga refers to the inner power that we all hold. That deep inner strength that not only keeps us focused, but allows us to be honest with ourselves and our limits. We carry so much love and compassion as well as depth and a desire for challenge. It is quite amazing when we tap into the life force we hold as individuals and consequently begin to see how we can impact the world in small or very large ways. While we do experience a ‘workout’ by practicing power yoga, you will also experience the yoke and the union that is true yoga – a body, mind, and spirit connection that allows us to achieve a deep ‘working in.’

If you go to an Ashtanga class, it will always feature the same sequence. Vinyasa and power classes do not feature the same sequence every time, so the instructor can put together a sequence that is most fitting to the students in the room.

I’m still not entirely clear about the names and styles

Especially if you’re new to yoga, it can be hard to get a handle on these distinctions. My suggestion is to let it go for now. Don’t worry about it and instead use your energy to find a yoga class in your community that you will enjoy and benefit from. Go practice and clear your mind. :-)

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>>Related posts in the YogaRose.net Explainer series: YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X

>>Previously in the YogaRose.net Explainer series: What’s that pose the guy in the Sunday Times is doing? And how do you get into it? 

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Got a question for YogaRose.net? Send it my way! Drop an email to ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com or send me a tweet @rose101. I can’t promise to answer all questions (I do, after all, have another gig besides teaching and writing about yoga), but I will try to at least steer you to interesting answers. (It goes without saying that this isn’t meant to be a step-by-step how-to on yoga. To learn yoga, find a good teacher and get yourself to a yoga class, stat!)

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© 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.

YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X

Are you among the more than 3 million who have ordered the P90x home exercise system? You know the one. P90X comes with a set of DVDs that you’re supposed to rotate through in a specific order over the 90 days of the program. The Yoga X DVD begins with the rather charismatic Tony Horton pounding out the virtues of yoga, including strength and calmness of mind. He then says:

Expand the mind here a little bit and try something new. I can do things at my age of 45 not because I can do a bunch of pull-ups, but because I do yoga.

My disclaimer here is that I’ve only done the 90-minute DVD once. But in the spirit of the immediacy of a blog, I’m going to share my initial impressions — from the point of view of a long-time practitioner — with you.

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

Intro on the virtues of yoga, including strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and calming the mind “…combining mind, body and soul together…”“It’s about breath work…”“The tip of the day is to clear your mind.” Bravo for talking about the need to expand the mind, and the fact that yoga aims to bring body, mind and spirit into union. I also liked that he noted yoga is about strength (the common perception is that it’s all about flexibility) and that it requires breath work. (Later on, he even talks about how yoga postures provide massages for the central nervous system.)
A 90-minute sequence

I like this because the styles of yoga I do (Ashtanga and power/vinyasa) connect breath to movement typically in a 90-minute format.
Written descriptions of each posture in the accompanying fitness guide

I haven’t read through all the descriptions, but I’m glad that they are there, including tips on how to intensify postures and a caution: “Avoid injury by not forcing the body beyond its capacity.”
Three sun salutations These are Ashtanga sun salutations Close, but not exactly. In Ashtanga sun salutations, you hold each down dog for five breaths and you return to standing in between each one. Tony goes right into the next one. (But bonus points for spelling it “Astanga,” which I consider the more traditional way to spell what in America is nearly always spelled “Ashtanga.”)
Breath cues Breathe Kudos for reminders on breathing. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I would have loved for Tony to talk about how in this yoga breath (called “ujjayi” in Sanskrit), you inhale and exhale with the mouth closed and you breathe into the chest rather than the low belly.
Upward-facing dog

I would love to hear Tony tell P90Xers that in up dog, you need to send the hips forward (this decreases the risk of bringing tension into the low back).
Chaturanga Keep the elbows pinned (“pinched”) to the side of the body Agreed! I have to admit I don’t like to use words such as “pinched” or “collapsed,” etc. in yoga, but that’s a stylistic matter.
Relaxation reminders Keep the face calm Excellent!
Modifications for various postures For example, if you need to come out of reverse warrior 2, you can straighten the front leg for relief. Very important.
Transitions from warrior 2 to warrior 1

Warrior 2 is a wide-stance posture in which the hips open out to the side wall. Warrior 1 is a posture in which the hips square to the front. If you are toggling between the two, I think it really helps to know that you need to turn the back foot in 45 degrees in warrior 1 so that you can set the skeletal body up to even begin to square the hips. Otherwise, this can be such an awkward and uncomfortable transition.
Savasana Tony notes that in yoga, you shouldn’t just abruptly end the practice. He puts P90Xers into savasana (corpse pose). Cool.
Om/Aum Tony says it’s not a cult thing. He likes to do om three times and encourages his P90Xers to use their voice. Impressive. His oms are serious – he’s not just mailing them in.

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

Overall, I was surprised by the P90X Yoga X program. I expected an exclusively all-exercise, keep-pushing, lose-that-weight, tone-that-hard-body tone. I would have loved even more breathing cues and an explanation early on that in standing postures, you want to keep the kneecaps lifted up in order to engage the quadriceps (basically, you want to keep those upper thighs working). I outright disagreed here and there – for example, whether to contract the gluteus maximus in certain postures. And I definitely would have given more instruction for full wheel (upward bow) posture, or just not included it, since it’s such a deep backbend.

But here’s the thing – millions of people who perhaps would have gone their whole lives never having tried yoga have now been exposed to it because they’ve bought P90X. In an ideal world, I would love if everyone tried yoga in the setting of a dedicated yoga studio because there’s a sweetness and a quiet to it that’s hard to achieve in other places. But that’s not realistic, and I’d rather see people introduced to this incredible system by someone who at least talks about the benefits and design of the practice, talks about the importance of breath, and ends the sequence in savasana. Hopefully people who love it will find a yoga instructor who deepens their practice, and the rest will have had enough cues and enough personal sense to stay safe when they do practice.

This is all fine and good, YogaRose.net, but I have a different question. I know you in real life, Rose, and I am still having a hard time believing that you’re doing P90X. What’s the deal?

Those of you who know me will be shocked to hear that I — or, more accurately, my boyfriend and I — are indeed trying out P90X. What’s surprising about me doing this is that one of my most liberating days when it comes to health and fitness occurred in 2009 or 2010 when I realized that I had truly found a complete mind-body regimen in yoga. I could get cardio, strength training, stress relief and even meditation (of the moving kind) all rolled into one 90-minute practice a day. I was so excited by the fact that I would never have to step on to a cardio machine at the gym again that I gave away my Asics and never looked back.

This year, however, I’ve been expanding my horizons and exploring other ways to move my body, and the challenge of P90X is just that — a challenge. It’s liberating to see where I’m at compared to a few years ago, before I started doing enough yoga to make a difference in my body’s capacities. I am so much more aware of my body, and of my mind-body connection, now, so from this vantage point, it’s pretty fun to check out what this craze is all about. And I’m excited to tell you that the plyometrics program — the one Tony says puts the X in P90X — didn’t completely kick my ass (wicked hard, yes, but it didn’t floor me). Thanks to yoga, I can say, as Tony would, “Bring it.”

>>Update 7.15.12: In looking for some interesting yoga-related podcasts, I just stumbled over this archived interview on Yoga Peeps with Tony Horton

>>Update. Read the related YogaRose.net Explainer blog post: YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X [Round 2]: What’s vinyasa, power yoga and Ashtanga all about? How do I tell the difference?

>>Got questions about P90X Yoga X that weren’t addressed in this post? Ask away and I’ll share my thoughts with you. Drop a comment or email to ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com or send me a tweet @rose101.

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>>Previously in the YogaRose.net Explainer series: What’s that pose the guy in the Sunday Times is doing? And how do you get into it? 

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Got a question for YogaRose.net? Send it my way! Drop an email to ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com or send me a tweet @rose101. I can’t promise to answer all questions (I do, after all, have another gig besides teaching and writing about yoga), but I will try to at least steer you to interesting answers. (It goes without saying that this isn’t meant to be a step-by-step how-to on yoga. To learn yoga, find a good teacher and get yourself to a yoga class, stat!)

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© 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.

YogaRose.net turns 1

It just occurred to me that YogaRose.net turns the ripe age of 1 today. It was on June 1, 2010 that I sat down, picked my WordPress.com URL (would love to transform this home to a .org one of these days when I have more time), secured the domain name, picked a theme and created my pages on Ashtanga resources and all that good stuff.

At the end of a yoga class, saying “Namaste” has come to be a typical acknowledgement of those who have shared the practice with you.

Translated many different ways, one of my favorite ways to think about this Sanskrit word is, “The creative spirit in me honors the creative spirit in you.”

In that spirit, thanks to everyone who has stumbled over to my little online space to glance, read, share and support. It has been deeply gratifying — and plain old fun — so far.

Namaste.

Do your summer travel plans include a yoga workshop?

Tank of gas: $3.79
Average cost of a weekend workshop class: $50
Firing up your agni (fire, vital spark): Priceless

Urdvha dhanurasana

Before I moved to Michigan from Massachusetts in 2005, I didn’t know much except that it was close enough to Chicago. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate a lot about Pure Michigan — from the Third Coast beaches (growing up in California, I refused to believe these beaches could possibly compare) to Hilltop Yoga, my home studio, a place that has truly changed the course of my life.

What I’ve also come to appreciate is that a lot of damn good yoga teachers come through the Midwest. That’s what sparked me to create the “Travel your yoga section” of YogaRose.net. Although I focus on Ashtanga yoga teachers, I do include teachers from different styles of yoga who are coming within an easy driving distance of mid-Michigan.

If you haven’t checked it out in a while, you might be surprised to see who’s visiting — from Columbus, Ohio to Chicago.

Have a question, addition or feedback on a workshop you did attend? Comment below! If you have specific questions you’d like to ask me directly, drop me an email at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com.

Happy 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.

Get your ‘shanti’ on this Memorial Day

Ashtanga closing prayer -- Sanskrit
Ashtanga closing prayer -- English

This is the Sanskrit closing prayer, along with the English translation, that ends a traditional Ashtanga yoga practice. When I practiced today here in Lansing, I dedicated my practice, and especially this closing, to the reason why we celebrate Memorial Day — the men and women (and I also think of the service animals) who sacrificed their lives to protect our peace.

I just returned this morning from spending the Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C. The annual National Memorial Day Concert took place just three miles from my hotel, and it’s hard to be in that town and not have an intensified response to the weight of the two wars being fought by armed forces such as those featured in this 60 Minutes” piece by Lara Logan that aired yesterday.  (I can’t mention Lara Logan without at least mentioning her incredible heroism as a journalist and a woman.)

The beauty of yoga is that by balancing out our body, mind and spirit, we are contributing to the greater good and we are in a better position to do even more. Think of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote about the “most basic kind of peace work“:

If in our daily life we can smile, 
if we can be peaceful and happy, 
not only we, but everyone 
will profit from it. This  
is the most basic kind 
of peace work.

But if you want to do something that feels more immediate and concrete today, Mashable offers four ways to support troops — including contributing to Dog Bless You, a cause that aims to donate dogs to servicemen and servicewomen who return from battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Make this holiday something more than a day to bask in the kick of summer, or a day to practice yoga on a more relaxed schedule — make this day bigger than you and your reality.

Shanti (peace).

(Credits: Sanskrit and English versions of the closing prayer: Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute 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. 

My Planet Telex moment in Ashtanga second series (or, how to find relief from the posture pictured below)

Tittibhasana B

I hate this posture.

Let me rephrase. I loathe this posture.

It’s called tittibhasana B (insect posture), and it appears in Ashtanga second series, a practice heavy on backbends and extreme hip openers as a way of liberating energy coiled at the base of the spine. On good days, second series feels like Pop Rocks candy on my spine — tingly, refreshing and a category unto itself. Most of the time, though, it is still a practice that I struggle to enjoy (unlike primary series, which is full of forward ends and is designed to bring the body into balance), and in no small part because of the extreme hip openers found in the middle of the series. My body and mind love hip opening postures as a category, but the ones that appear in second series are intense and make me confront seeping feelings of anxiety, frustration, impatience and irritation.

Needless to say, I have never found anything liberating about tittibhasana B, except the part when you’ve finished your five breaths in the posture and get to come out of it. (If this sounds familiar, I also like to come out of virabhadrasana A. Warrior A is a posture you often see in flow-based yoga practices. You don’t see insect posture much unless you do Ashtanga second series, so I don’t usually cite this as my nemesis posture. But it is quite possibly the single posture I hate the most — the posture I would edit out if I had an asana eraser.)

In tittibhasana, my arms don’t just drape around the back of the legs to find a clasp the way the yogi in this photo seems to effortlessly do. When I do this posture, my legs can’t straighten and my arms can, at most, reach my butt — I mean, I basically feel as if I’m trying to feeling up my own ass when I try to wiggle into this posture. When I’m in it, I often think, “Yoga teaches us humility, but really? Seriously? Is this necessary?

But something happened during the led Ashtanga second series class at Hilltop Yoga in Lansing’s Old Town this evening, and it prompted me, after finishing class to, check in to Foursquare and tweet this:

The opening line of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex“: “You can force it but it will not come.” Welcome to Ashtanga second series.

The reason? To explain, I have to talk about the posture that comes a few postures before this one. It’s called eka pada sirsasana (one-leg-behind-head posture), and it looks like this:

Eka pada sirsasana

I’ve been practicing led Ashtanga second series since last summer, and I usually can’t get either leg behind my head. On occasion, I can get my right leg behind, but I can’t leg go without the leg coming with me. (In his book on second series, Gregor Maehle describe his posture as “a peculiar mix of hamstring flexibility and hip rotation.)

I wondered during practice today whether all this time, I had been unable to approach this posture the right way because I was tense. There are times when I know I’m unnecessarily tensing a group of muscles — for example, the gluteus maximus or the shoulders. It’s hardest, though, when you don’t even know you’re holding on somewhere. So before going into eka pada sirsasana posture this evening, I tried to inhale relaxation into my right hip. I moved very slowly. I more or less had a conversation with my whole pelvis area, trying to coax it into relaxation.

Viola, both my right leg and my left cooperating with me.

Fast forward a few postures to tittibhasana B. Before I went into it, I once again tried to focus on breathing release into my hips. On not wanting this posture too much. For the first time ever, this posture did not sting in my lower body the way it normally does. I felt equanimity. I felt calm.

I saw a tweet the other day from @MeredithLeBlanc. I liked a lot:

If U notice Ur hips feeling tight while walking – stop, breath deep into the pelvis & feel the fluid flow in Ur body. Vam Vam Vam

When I was in New York a couple weeks for the Public Relations Society of America’s Digital Impact conference, I took Mysore classes at an excellent Midtown studio called the Yoga Sutra. One of the instructors kept coming over to tell me to relax my hip in standing postures.

So you might say I was primed for this moment tonight to finally, after all these years, relax my hip. In yoga, there’s the idea of sthira sukham — steady comfort.  You find strength, but you also find surrender. Being strong enough to let go is the moment that you free yourself. I’ve always loved that the first line of Radiohead’s “Planet Telex,” which is also the first line on the group’s 1995 album The Bends, is an indictment against trying to push through. What’s true for life is true for our yoga practice and vice versa, and it makes me wonder in what ways I might be holding on too tightly to something in my life off the mat.

(Photo credits: Both via www.ashtangayoga.info)

© 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.

YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique now open

The YogaRose.net online store is now open. Easily access all the books and videos I reference in my blog posts, such as my recent Dancing with the Deities. You can also find lots of Ashtanga yoga books and videos — some of the best Ashtanga resources that I’ve found out there — in one place.

I still, of course, encourage you to buy from your local bookstore. But this is a convenient option to find these resources all in one place and purchase them using your own Amazon account.

Don’t see what you want in the store? Send an email to ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com or send a tweet to @rose101 — or, of course, drop a comment below.

© 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.

Eight things to know about March 2012

Tim Miller’s latest Tuesdays with Timji update begins with the fact that May 18, 2011, is the second anniversary of the passing of K. Pattabhi Jois. The blog post then leads into the type of very honest ruminations that is the hallmark of Tuesdays with Timji. Read it now.

At the very end of the blog post, Tim writes, “In the meantime, here is something we are cooking up for 2012.” When you click on the download, you get the flier above. How incredible is that?

I’ve posted it on the YogaRose.net Facebook page and scheduled a few tweets promoting it, but you should skip the middle yogi and follow this event on Twitter, like the fan page on Facebook and register on the new website. But do tell your fellow yogis the eight pieces of information they need to know about March 2012:

1. Richard Freeman

2. Nancy Gilgoff

3. Tim Miller

4. David Swenson

5. Eddie Stern

6. San Diego

7. March 1-4, 2012

8. http://ashtangayogaconfluence.com/

Did I mention this will be incredible?

© 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.


Dancing with the Deities (A Not-So-Epic Overview)

How can stories of Hindu deities enrich a yoga practice? I wrote this blog post to accompany a two-hour workshop I gave to Hilltop Yoga teachers on May 15, 2011. But it’s meant to serve as a stand-alone post — so whether or not you were part of the workshop, I hope you enjoy the post and share your thoughts by commenting below or on the YogaRose.net Facebook page. I plan on doing future posts that take a look at the stories of individual deities, including Hanuman, the monkey king. I had thought about including Hanuman in this post, but decided, man, he needs a blog post all to himself!


Workshop description

Dancing with the Deities

In this workshop, we will explore some of the stories behind the postures that we have encountered so many times in our practice. We know natarajasana as dancer’s pose — but who was Nataraja, and what did his dance signify? Why do we honor Hanuman — the monkey king — by searching for a split? Through stories, we may find that we can spark a sacred energy deep within us. Through myths, perhaps we find a new way to connect our presence in practice to the boundlessness of ancient tradition.

Choreographing the dance

I knew long before I finished the classroom portion (so to speak) of Hilltop Yoga’s 500-hour teacher training program last fall that I wanted my workshop to be on the myths that can transform any yoga practice into a larger-than-life story. (Hilaire Lockwood, owner of Hilltop Yoga in Lansing, Mich., has made it a requirement for 500-hour teachers to give a two-hour workshop to fellow teachers and teacher trainees. I haven’t heard of other programs that require this, and I think it’s a great component of the program.) I’ve long been fascinated by stories and narratives — so much so that I chose to pursue a career as a daily newspaper reporter when I finished graduate school.

Some people become journalists because they have aspirations to write the next great American novel or become a published poet, and they choose a day job that will at least let them write for a living. I did not fall into that category. One of the few things I’ve known about myself since I was young was that what fascinated me most was not what could come out of my imagination, but the true stories all around — the kinds of stories that prompt you to say, “You can’t make this stuff up.” So I went into journalism to discover other people’s stories — whether inspirational, tragic or plain old strange —  and share those stories through the written word.

Over the years, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the incredibly rich stories of Hindu deities. I would often find myself in a posture and wonder, “Why is this pose named after the sage Marichi? What did he do that was so cool?” The more I’ve read about these gods and demigods, these humans and animals, the more intrigued I’ve become. Like with any good myth, these ancient tales hold the power to teach us a lot about our own strengths and weaknesses, fantasies and foibles.

I’m writing this blog post — and giving my teachers’ workshop — not as an expert. Far from it. I am coming from this as a fellow explorer. I want to you tell you what I know (which, in the scheme of things, is not much at all) and who told me, so that if a curiosity is sparked in you, you can start that journey yourself and begin to explore.

Studying the dance

One of my favorite parts of the two-week Ashtanga primary series teacher training at the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif. was story time. You take a Mysore Ashtanga class in the morning, perhaps assisting a second class, and then take lunch. After lunch, when everyone was still digesting and taking pulls from their coffee cups to try to stave off that desire for an afternoon nap, Tim Miller would tell stories from the Mahabharata, Bhagavad GitaRamayana and more modern sources as well. We’d lie down, get comfortable, and enjoy story time like we were in kindergarten again.

But these tales were not for the innocent or faint of heart. Gods and demos would be banished, killed, brought back in other form (or at least with a new head, as in the case with Daksha, who returns to life with a goat’s head. Read more about that story in the chapter on virabhadrasana in Myths of the Asana, described below.). If ever there were epic soap operas, these were it. The Mahabharata is said to be three times longer than the Bible. To make matters more confusing, where in soap operas you might find out someone has a twin, in these tales, gods all seem to have hundreds, if not more, incarnations. How can anyone possible keep up? (Maybe there’s an app for that now?)

Over the past few years, some excellent books and CDs have been published and produced that weave these tales. Here are some of the ones I recommend. (You can buy all of these using your Amazon.com account through the YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique.)

Stories about the deities

Myths of the Asanas: The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition
Alanna Kaivalya and Arjuna van der Kooij

This is an outstanding book that came out last year. It’s beautifuly told, beautifully put together, and is about as relevant as it gets, in terms of how the authors bring everything back to the modern Western lifestyle. I remember one day last year when I had just had a horrible, soul-sucking day. I went home, started crying and pulled this book off the shelf. I started reading these stories about gods and mortals in binds far worse than I could imagine, and yet had managed to find redemption and moved on. It was the most calming and reassuring book I could have opened that day. (In addition to the paperback copy, this book is also available as a Kindle ebook.)

The Little Book of Hindu Deities
Sanjay Patel

I picked up this little gem from Moksha Yoga in Chicago when I attended a workshop with Ashtanga master Lino Miele. The author describes himself as an “ABCD (American-born confused Desi (Indian),” even though he was born in the United Kingdom. He grew up in the United States disinterested in his parents’ culture, but was drawn to these stories after becoming an animator at Pixar. Searching for a way to tell these tales while being respectful, Patel made a connection with “Sanrio’s ultracute Hello Kitty designs and thought, ‘Well, there’s a style no one could be offended by.” The result is a handy guide to deities, with bonus sections that provide overviews of Hindu epics, the Hindu chronology of creation and the nine planets. It looks like a book for children, but looks can be deceiving. Publishers Weekly says the book is most popular with teens and 20-somethings.

Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series: Mythology, Anatomy and Practice
Gregor Maehle

The best way I can describe Gregor Maehle’s excellent books on Ashtanga yoga is “heady.” He is thorough, intellectual and esoteric — but without being inaccessible. I picked up his first book on Ashtanga primary series and his newest