La mujer de viaje, el mat de yoga y El Arco

elarco

I joined six other women in Cabo San Lucas this past weekend to celebrate my youngest sister’s bachelorette. I’ve never been to a bachelorette of any kind before — much less one in Mexico — so it was an eye-opening experience on many levels. 😉 And it was a blast. A truly special trip in which I could get closer not only to my two sisters, but to four new friends.

After a crazy long travel day/day 1 of the celebrations and, as you can expect, very little sleep, I still had to find a spot to roll out my mat for practice. That’s how practicing six days a week works, right? (Very different scene than the last time, back in May, that I went more than 24 hours without sleep!)

Even before I found a daily ashtanga practice, I enjoyed seeking out local studios to try a yoga class in the same way that runners like to see a new city by doing their daily run through the neighborhoods. I remember thinking how upscale Vancouver’s yoga scene was back in 2009, how years before that I realized Dallas had something for me despite my assumptions otherwise, and so on. I still enjoy finding studios when I can, but now I usually practice on my own when traveling.

What was most salient about rolling out my mat this weekend was that I wanted to use the practices less in a location scouting kind of way to get a feel for a town’s surface vibe, but to tap into that particular place’s deeper energy (such yogi talk, I know!). Cabo San Lucas is famously home to El Arco (“The Arch”), which is also known as Land’s End. And it happens to be where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean — so talk about juicy energetic swirls. (Here is a random gorgeous shot of El Arco that I found online.)

The wisdom of yoga and meditation masters frequently returns to the idea that we need to be fully present. In the past, I have used practicing in different locales to learn more about myself, to work through knots, to unload baggage, and all the rest. This weekend, perhaps I found another way of experiencing being present to a place rather than using the place as a tool for my inner work. Not surprisingly, it was through that wonderful piece of real estate known as the yoga mat.

Did it feel any different? I don’t know. But maybe setting that intention helped me be more receptive in general to those coordinates, to the people I was traveling with, and to the strangers I was meeting. One man in a lovely jewelry shop in San Jose del Cabo didn’t seem to roll like the rest of the shopkeepers surrounding him. He told me he was from Mexico City, went to college in at the University of Texas at Austin, and was back in Cabo to help run the family business. And still, there was something I couldn’t put my finger on. Finally, he moved his arm to show me something and I saw his om tattoo. Ah. An Iyengar practitioner, it turns out. One far away from his teachers, and faced with practicing on his own every day. We had a nice talk about that, and that was my memento from his shop. (Not that I didn’t want some of the gorgeous jewelry, mind you. 😉 )

If it hadn’t been for my sister’s bachelorette, I probably would have never visited Los Cabos — would have written off Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo as too touristy and too much of a party central kind of destination. (I mean, I loved that bars advertised their 2-for-1 happy hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Yes, starting at 7 a.m., you can load up on your cervezas! :-) ) And had I let my preconceptions and prejudices rule my travels, I would have missed out on meeting this shopkeeper. On meeting a sweet and fun gay couple from Seattle on their honeymoon. And on seeing and feeling this amazing part of the world.

P.S. — The pic of my Mysore rug rolled up to double as my meditation cushion is dedicated to C.G., whom I don’t get to talk to or see much, but who I think about frequently. :-)

cabosanlucaspractice

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. 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 an ashtangi stuck on an island pulsing with the energy of inebriated schmoozing to do?

I am on a boat headed to a big work-related conference that I am not looking forward to. Not. At. All. (I sort of feel like a pouty character in Dr. Seuss book saying this out loud.) Business and politics and schmoozing and drinking — lots and lots of drinking — are the name of the game at this conference. I’m not feeling like doing any of these things right now, and certainly not for the rest of the week.

What’s an ashtangi to do? Tell me what you would do. Hare are some things I’m doing:

    • I’ve been replaying, in my head, snippets of a fantastic short little film based on a David Foster Wallace commencement speech that Paul Gold posted on his blog recently. Unfortunately, due to some copyright fights, the viral video, done by The Glossary, is no longer available. But you can still listen to the powerful speech in its entirely. (I hope the copyright rights are resolved, because it was an important video to have out there.)
    • I went to the shala a bit earlier than normal for a Wednesday so that I could practice and still meet my carpool on time to get here. I have my yoga mat and Mysore rug so that I can practice each morning, and the Mysore rug will double as my meditation mat for this trip. I file all this under the category of “help with shock absorption.” (This one kind of goes without saying, right?)
    • I brought my Ayurvedic teas and such with me. It’s nearly impossible to stick to my overall pitta- (and, now) vata-balancing) Ayurvedic program here, but I’ve found lately that the more I stick to it in general, the less I feel the fluctuations when I have to go off it. (Plus, long story short, my sage Ayurvedic counselor told me earlier this month that I went so far with my original pitta-balance program that now the name of the game for me is to “relax the program.” Such a pitta problem to have!)
    • I’ll try yet again to embody Shinzen Young’s awesome definitions of equanimity.
    • Oh, right — I’ll also try to find the humor of being stuck on this island. (This is the kind of place where people dress up in period costume for the tourists, and where the fudge flows freely. I kind of judge both things, but I’ll try to be less judgmental while here. 😉 )

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© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. 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] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

A few of us who went on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani earlier this month did so with a goal of leaving behind online and social media distractions. I was one of them, taking my iPad only to write, and using my iPhone for photos and video. Given how intensely relaxed everyone was able to be, I was a bit shy about asking my teacher and our retreat leader, Angela Jamison, if she would be willing to sit down for a YogaRose.net Three Questions set. On the other hand, when else would we have this setting, and this time? So I asked, and she sweetly said yes.

We set up a chair in the retreat center’s dining area, and you can hear the waves of Xinalani Beach below her as she speaks. (Thanks to the gorgeous lapping of the waves, if you have headphones, I think that’s the best way to listen to these videos.) The videos are listed first, and then some thoughts follow.

What is radical f-ing acceptance? (Hint: Think equanimity with an edge.)

What are the slowest openings? (Hint: Think about the places with the least tangible structures.)

What are questions to live by? (Hint: Think about orienting questions that keep teachers close.)

Radical f-ing (or is it effing?) acceptance

At the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2) shala, we talk a lot about radical f-ing acceptance, so this has become part of my vocabulary.

As an AY:A2 apprentice, I had the chance to observe Angela teach a workshop in Canton, Mich., last month for a group of mostly vinyasa yoga-based practitioners who didn’t have radical effing acceptance in their parlance. This discussion came up in the context of a student’s question about what she can do about the feeling that her ribs are being crushed in twists like marichyasana C. Instead of launching into an anatomy answer, Angela starting by talking about a two-step process that can help remove resistance in our practice.

The first step involves this radical effing acceptance, which can help take that first level of judgment out of the picture: “Most of the time we’re subtlely kind of fighting with our experience,” she said. She explained that learning on a subtle level to cut the nervous system’s circuit of attraction-repulsion — to learn how to step away from the fight for a minute — is a skill in and of itself, and it’s not an easy one. The next step is to work with the energetics of this: “OK, this is information. It is what it is and it’s OK. If you don’t have that baseline of just radical acceptance, you won’t actually get access to all that information.” In step 2, in other words, if you’ve confirmed that you’re safe, then can you see if there’s a way to relax? Is there a way to let that experience flow?

Yoga practitioners in the ashtanga lineage know that asana is just one of eight limbs, and the physical practice is not the end all, be all of the practice. But it’s so easy, in that moment of trying to twist and bind — or get your leg behind your head or whatever — to not get caught up in it, and only it. Using a two-step process like this can help us turn every challenge in our asana practice — and we all know how many there are every day, much less over time — into a teachable moment for our nervous system.

‘Almost no experience in the body is solid’ — except perhaps thought forms

In that same workshop, Angela noted that in most poses, there is no stasis in our bodies. “Almost no experience in the body is solid — ever. Even when we’re lying in savasana for 15 minutes, there’s almost no stasis,” she said.

The most solid aspect, for instance, of what happens in the body’s zone that includes the belly, diaphragm and ribs — which are so much air and water — are our thought forms. “If we have a thought form of, ‘Oh, this is what my belly is, and I have this belief about it’ — that’s pretty stable. And we reinforce it and we think it again, and that stays. But really, in the meantime, the physical and energetic structures are always moving,” she told the group.

And maybe in that moment, a practitioner can simply exhale.

That idea made immediate sense to me — at the same time, it blew my mind to view our body-mind connection this way. Thought forms as more solid than what is actually happening in a body? Absolutely — I mean, think about eating disorders and socially constructed self-hatred-driven body image issues that both women and men deal with.

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

Although the Xinalani ashtanga retreat, held the first week of March, was set in a secluded paradise, there were workshops each afternoon for teachers and aspiring teachers that talked about everything from karma yoga to questions to live by, which is the focus of the third question above.

We also talked about when it’s appropriate for someone to start to teach ashtanga yoga. Angela writes about this in a fantastically candid blog post she wrote a few days ago on the AY:A2 apprenticeship program:

For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

We talked about this last point — that move from scarcity motives to abundance motives —  in detail during the retreat. While there is a kind of useful fire that can be generated from scarcity motives, there are dangers if someone doesn’t actually believe he or she has all the money, attention, sex and power needed, because that leaves open the opportunity to use the teaching to try to get it.

“Usually it’s not appropriate to teach ashtanga until the transition of scarcity needs to abundance motives has been met,” she said during one of our workshops. Here’s an example: Coming from a place of scarcity motives, other yoga teachers and studios can be seen as competition; from a place of abundance motives, the same teachers and studios are viewed as colleagues. It’s a world of difference, and it can have such a significant impact on how someone chooses to transmit the practice, interact with students, run a business, and everything else that surrounds the act of teaching.

My next beach reading

Back to the third video about questions to live by. Asking yourself: “Who am I and why am I here?” as a way to remain alive in an experience, no matter what it is — I’ve tried this since the retreat in ways large and small, from eating choices to teaching schedules, and it’s been interesting how it generates slightly different answers than I might get from thinking about an issue without these types of big-picture questions.

This reminds me that I want to reread the Bhagavad Gita. Again. I’ve read the classic Eknath Easwaran translation twice in the last couple of years, but on the retreat, Angela mentioned Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, published in 2007 by Graham M. Schweig. It sounds like a lovely translation, and I will start it as soon as I can get my day job to stop being so demanding. (In other words, if only I had a beach to read it on without any distractions . . . .)


Want to watch one more video? See Angela discuss “What is mula bandha?,” which was part of this Xinalani retreat blog post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] PVR –> DTW, without leaving the magic behind

Xinalani signage

One week ago today, after spending seven nights in the breathtaking seclusion that is Xinalani, I boarded a direct flight from Puerto Vallarta to Detroit. The flight home is normally when I take a deep sigh and realize that (1) while I will be so happy to see my family, (2) it will be like taking a cold shower to return to the daily grind of work and domestic obligations (project deadlines, home task lists, bills to pay . . . when’s my next vacation again?). During winter, I get the added dread of (3) returning to the cold weather.

Reentry is so damn hard.

This time, to my surprise, I was pretty zen about leaving — and it wasn’t because I didn’t love every second of the retreat (I absolutely did). I think part of it is that I went in with the right attitude, and part of it was that this six-day-a-week practice has helped me deal with everyday stress to such an extent that returning doesn’t seem like such a hard landing.

I thought in this post I’d share a few ideas I’ve been kicking around this past week for how to make the most out of a dream yoga vacation — in other words, how to not dread the flight back.


The very first evening of our Xinalani retreat last week, Angela Jamison talked about how she likes to do daylong retreats that people experience in the middle of their normal lives. Retreats in spectacular getaways like this one, she said, can be challenging. If we become happy only because we’re in this space, we’re relying on circumstance-based happiness.

“What do you do when you when you leave?”

I don’t know that we ever returned to that question, but asking it on the first evening of the retreat was a sweet way to help each of us frame the retreat.

The last time I went away to a hypnotic place to practice yoga, it was 2011 and Mt. Shasta. I was with about 20 other yogis who were as thrilled as I was to have the chance to practice yoga and hike daily with Tim Miller. It was that retreat that kick-started my consistent six-day-a-week practice.

I’ve done weekend retreats to beautiful settings in Michigan, but a dormant volcanic and a beach-meets-jungle setting are my two anchors of going away — truly going away — to find something deeper. Based on these two experiences, I’ve thought about five possible ways to extend the fruits of your trip indefinitely.

1. Start the retreat like a sleuth on the trail of sparks of inspiration.
Flowers seen in the town of Yelapa, a short boat ride from XinalaniYou’re a detective, and the mystery is how you can make this trip last longer than your physical time there. The clues will show up in places large and small. I try to bottle up the space of feeling carefree that I’m experiencing, but in reality, that feeling can be so fleeting; the minute I get in that customs line back at home, I’ve long since forgotten what it feels like to not have a care in the world. So I try to collect momentos: I take pictures of clouds and waves, I blog about moments, and I record relaxing sounds. Far from enlightened, I need some concreteness to my inspiration.

 

2. Once home, use the inspirational sparks you’ve collected a little differently.

Xinalani rocksI used to look at beach pictures on my work desk and sort of sigh internally — if only I had won the lottery and were lying on that beach instead of sitting where I was. That is such an unproductive pattern of thinking, I realize now. I’m never going to win the lottery.

Or maybe I already have, time and time again, by being surrounded by incredible people day in and day out, and by finding this ashtanga practice.

These days, when I look at photos of paradises visited, rather than try to jump back into that picture, I try to pull out the essences of that place and time and import the feelings into my current space. That feeling of completely surrendering on the beach — I can’t have that at my desk, but can I drop my shoulder blades down my back and find a calming exhale?
Girl meditating via Viktor Egelund's Facebook pageA friend of mine shared a ridiculously cute photo of a little girl meditating a couple days ago, along with this Rumi quote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” That flip was helpful, and I started thinking about Xinalani and Mt. Shasta, and how maybe I can see these divine places not as thousands of miles away from me, but thousands of ways already part of me. (This probably obvious to most everyone reading this, but it was a revelation for me. 😉 Old mental habits are hard to break!)

3. Journal every day

Write a little something every day, whether it’s with a smooth pen in your favorite notebook or using an iPad. Your journaling doesn’t have to be related at all the to the retreat, but getting your thoughts on paper can be incredibly therapeutic.

4. Spend a little time alone every day

I think this tends to happen naturally during retreats, but if it doesn’t, then consider taking some time alone each day. I think this helps to focus your energies on you — what you’re experiencing, what you’re getting in touch with, what you’re trying to avoid.

5. Start a new habit during the retreat, and stick with it for at least 30 days after returning home, starting with your first day back

The day that you stopI think retreats are invaluable. I know they’re expensive, but saving up for them — like I did for this one, $25 at a time — is worth more than any material possession you can buy. To make it more than just an escape, I try to use the experience to plant new seeds on the levels of the body, mind and spirit. That might mean using the retreat to work on re-patterning how I think about one very specific thing (work, an old relationship, a new relationship, or whatever). It might be to start a new habit, like a regular asana practice or meditation schedule. It might be to forge better eating habits.

That said, don’t look at your whole lifestyle and decide you want to change it all at once on this one retreat. It’s not going to happen, and you’re setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Instead, pick one or two concrete things and run with it . . .

. . . and promise yourself — hold yourself accountable — that as soon as the plane touches down on the runway, you’re going to do whatever it was that you told yourself you would do. I’ve learned from very wise women in my life that trying something for a month or 40 days does wonders to help the habit stick.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

(Photo credit: Meditating girl, as shared on Viktor Egelund’s Facebook page; Self-destructive sign, as shared on the Love, Sex, Intelligence Facebook page)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

[Retreat dispatch] Flames, tapas and bandhas

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani bonfire

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2013 AROUND 11:35 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

Mysore-style ashtanga retreats, with early practices, aren’t conducive to late nights. But it’s our last night at Xinalani, and for the first time all week, most of us made it past 10 p.m. After another spectacular dinner, we enjoyed a bonfire overlooking Xinalani beach. With the new moon just around the corner, the tide was particularly strong and high, lapping right up, it seemed, to the edge of our dining space.

It turns out Angela Jamison, our ashtanga teacher (and yoga camp leader!), is a pro at stoking fires. I found great symbolism in that, since one of the premises of the ashtanga yoga practice is that of stoking the sacred fire of tapas.

Bandas, our energy locks, help us build up that internal heat that burns and transforms, and I had an interesting study in bandhas — or lack thereof — in this morning’s practice. I should probably be taking ladies’ holiday today, but it’s the last full day of the retreat and happily, exceptions can be justified. I was instructed to practice without revving up the bandhas. So I stepped vinyasas rather than did jump-backs; kept my feet on the floor for navasana; practiced malasana instead of bhuja pidasana; and so on. I’ve never practiced primary series this way, and it felt like a sweet restorative primary series practice. But upping the ease in the practice by turning off my energy locks also took away the internal heat, and I was reminded that if I always practiced this way, it would be quite difficult to ever discover edges — physical, mental and otherwise.


Talking about bandhas is always a great opportunity to revisit the perennial ashtangi question of what the heck mula bandha is in the first place. Ask any teacher or pick up any book, and you’ll see vastly different answers. I loved Richard Freeman’s take, which I heard late last year, that mula bandha can be something you serve.

So, what is mula bandha? Angela was kind enough to spend time today answering some questions for this blog, and this is what she said in response to this question:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] The eyes (well, dristi) have it

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced each morning

The Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced our dristi each morning. The fact that it was such an amazing space meant it also offered potential distractions — and thus even more reason to hold our gazes!

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013 AROUND 10:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

As the keys of my little iPad Bluetooth keyboard click away, the waves are rolling and music from the retreat center’s salsa night blares down below in the lounge as the other yogis on vacation here drink and dance a bit. (All the ashtangis, however, are in their rooms, and most are no doubt asleep. I should be too, but what else is new?) It’s a strange mix of sounds, but everything fits somehow.

Seeing the evening’s salsa instructor stroll in as I headed up to my room to start settling down to bed reminds me that it’s been far too long since my husband and I have had our own salsa lesson. One of the last times I saw my salsa teacher, he told me — as he does every time I see him — that I need to relax.

I remember the exchange really well. “I am relaxed,” I insisted.

“No you’re not,” he said. I must have given him a look, because he continued, “Do you know how I know?” I shook my head.

“Your eyes.”

He was right, of course. My head, as usual, thought I was relaxed, but some part of my body, as usual, gave it away that I wasn’t truly. Being the yoga dork that I am, I immediately thought of dristi at the moment, and how important it is to the ashtanga practice.

I’ve been blessed: My extreme near-sightedness has helped me keep my awareness on my own mat even early on in my yoga practice, when I didn’t have an ashtanga teacher to teach me about tristana (the concentration practice of breath, bandha and dristi). People just several feet away aren’t defined by clear lines; I see them as blobs if my glasses aren’t on. So even if I wanted to dart my eyes around the room, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything clearly enough anyway.

These days, I get to employ dristi to help deepen my internal awareness, and the more tools I have to keep the discursive mind at bay, the better. It’s also just a relief: I spend much of my time at work needing my eyes to flitter between my two computer screens (a set-up I love, don’t get me wrong) and sometimes my iPhone too. In the 700 miles or so that I drive each week, my eyes have to be focused and also scanning to keep me driving defensively and safely on the road. Only focus on one place during practice? I’m all over it.


Each evening this week, we’ve had an evening workshop that looked more closely at a couple of topics key to an asana practice or to a meditation practice, and the workshop yesterday on dristi sparked a lot of interesting discussion. Angela talked to us about two emerging fields that involve therapeutic use of eye movement: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and brainspotting.

Fascinating stuff. I know there is some resistance, and even controversy, over some of these techniques. But knowing the power of dristi — whether it’s in the yoga practice or in life and literature (eyes give lovers away all the time, don’t they?) — the concepts instinctively make sense to me.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] Waves, vrittis and meditations

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani waves

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2013 AROUND 9:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

The first thing you notice about the Xinalani eco retreat center on Mexico’s Banderas Bay — about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta — are the waves. They’re stunning, and amplified. They’re so loud it seems like the winds must be unusually high, or a storm is coming, or, though obviously not the case, the retreat center has strangely managed to mic the entire gorgeous beachfront and pipe the sounds to wherever you happen to be. And what you continue to notice — as you wake up, or practice yoga, or meditate, or get ready for dinner, or chat with your friends, or read on the beach, or wash sand out of your ears, or head to bed — is that incredibly, the waves are still there. It’s as if they’re being controlled by a larger-than-life metronome.

Descriptions of the waves that ebbed and flowed among our group members included the steadiness of a heartbeat — and the steadiness of vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sleep this close to a beachfront, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to practice yoga in a place like this (though in 2009, I did get to practice yoga inside the inner sanctum of a Masonic center in Vancouver — that was totally weird). It’s the fourth night of our seven-night ashtanga yoga retreat led by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, and the nine of us lucky enough to be on this first such trip are still so blown away by the whole experience — and especially by the waves.

We used the sounds of the waves during meditation today to explore an auditory element of a concentration-focused sitting practice. Among the questions explored: Could we meditate on the waves and experience the sounds as recordings, detached from any visual experience? What did we experience between the sensations in the auditory, visual and kinesthetic fields?


This afternoon, my friend Jade and I decided to get a little silly and play on the beach a bit. Against our better judgment, we decided to do an inversion on one of the beach’s many rock formations, even though it was late afternoon and high tide. After I got up into ardha sirsasana and settled into the relief that I was stable and balanced and hadn’t toppled over, a wave came in and, indeed, toppled me over. The exact same thing happened to Jade, even though I swore, now that we knew the pattern, that I would be able to warn her in time. Those waves move pretty damn fast.

We had such a blast getting knocked over by waves — far more fun than when mental fluctuations come out of nowhere (or at least seem to come out of nowhere, even though we should usually recognize the pattern) and throw us off course. They’re the memories from the past that run roughshod over your present moment. Or anxieties about the future that intrude on your current mood. Or the rumbling of some rambling thoughts — happy, silly, profound, whatever — that zap into your headspace at inopportune times.

Crashing waves

 

Jade and the waves


Knowing that Angela would lead a few opportunities to sit each day — and knowing that I would have time to sit beyond those periods as well — I came into this retreat with a goal of establishing a more consistent meditation practice.

I found the path to my six-day-a-week ashtanga practice back in 2011 following an ashtanga retreat to California’s Mt. Shasta with the very big-hearted Tim Miller. Meeting Tim in 2010 changed my perspective and my practice — and  by extension, my life — in profound ways.

Soon after returning from that trip, in which I let go of some pretty deep emotional baggage I was carrying around, I met Angela back home in Michigan. She is the teacher I now realize I’ve been looking for my whole life, and having this retreat time was the sweetest gift in the world.

(In case you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in retreats — they’re worth every dime you have to save up and all the sacrifices you have to make to attend, because for so many of us, daily life simply doesn’t afford the space to create a new pathway for yourself.)

So now I’m looking forward to converting the inspiration from this experience to finding a path to a deeper daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating between five and seven days a week since this past fall, but the meditations have been at different times of days and for different lengths of time. I want some consistency so that I can reach more penetrating places. It doesn’t have to be the consistency of the waves I’m hearing as I type this, but I do want to make meditation much more of a constant in my day-to-day routine.

I know that the more this happens, the less those knock-out vrittis will get the best of me.


A momento I collected from the trip:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. 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.

How to draw yoga stick figures + Twitter’s new Vine app

For a total change of pace, I’m sharing what my sister Sedora gave me as a holiday present last year:

How To Draw Yoga Stick Figures

How to Draw Yoga Stick Figures by Mikelle Terson is such a fun treat, giving my yoga bookshelf a little levity. Here’s one example:

https://twitter.com/Rose101/status/303336344543981569

On occasion, I find myself wanting to jot down notes about a posture and it would be cool to be able to sketch it. I used to say my drawing skills stopped around the third grade, but a while back I saw some designs by elementary school kids, and I realized it’s more accurate to say that I draw at the level of a first-grader. So this book is perfect. (Thanks again, Sedora!)

The spiral-bound book starts out with some general tips (“When a posture is revolved, I find it easier to draw the legs first”) and then devotes one page to each pose, starting with adho mukha savasana all the way to yoganidrasana.

By the way, I used Vine — an app that Twitter launched a few weeks ago — to create that little video. Vine creates GIF-like looping videos, and it’s been described as Instagram for videos. Each video is a mere six seconds long, making it quite sharable and portable. You can thread together scenes by stopping the recording (the app makes that easy to do), or you can simply record six seconds of video. Available as a free app for iPhones and the iPod Touch, I don’t think it’ll take long for the yoga-asana-on-the-Internet world to discover Vine.

>>Related: I did a post for my firm’s blog on how to start creating looking video using Vine.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. 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.

 

Neti pot fail

Image

That moment in your first down dog when you realize you had forgotten to bend forward to shake out any excess neti pot water.

I’ve been using the neti pot daily for a few months now, and I think I only had this experience for the first time last week. I had the same problem again this week. #netipotfail :-) Tell me I am not the only one who has experienced this.

© 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.

Snowmanasana

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It’s interesting how sometimes people help you with your practice without even knowing it. My in-laws do such a sweet job of setting up a comfortable place for my husband and I to stay when we visit for the holidays. This space is perfect for me to practice in — and I couldn’t help but feel that the snowmen were making sure I didn’t cut corners on any poses I perhaps don’t enjoy being in (cough*kapotasana B*cough).

Happy holidays, if you celebrate them. If you feel like sharing any holiday — or non-holiday — practice stories, please drop a comment. I would love to hear them.

Showing up (for backbends, Capitol lawn protests, etc.)

Right-to-work protests at the Michigan Capitol buiding today. (Photo by Romain Blanquart via the Detroit Free Press.)

What is it that you show up for? I mean, really show up for? Your yoga practice? Your job? Your kids? Your marriage? Your church? A cause? Why do you do it? How do you do it?

I’m thinking about this on a day full of people showing up in vastly different ways. I started my morning at the yoga shala in Ann Arbor, rolling out my mat for Mysore practice at 6:15 a.m. The collective energy was, as always, powerful and grounding. All the ashtangis around me have had their own journeys of training themselves to change their lifestyle enough to show up at ridiculously early hours to practice, and why they do it week after week is like a fingerprint — unique to them. Yet the collective feel of a group of people working toward a similar goal is palpable in that space.

The 60-minute drive back to mid-Michigan, where I live and work, took 90 minutes this morning, thanks to cars clogging the highway as they headed toward Michigan’s capital city to protest right-to-work legislation. I work two blocks from Lansing’s Capitol building, so my coworkers and I — a mix of former journalists and news junkies — couldn’t help but to follow what was happening as thousands of protestors and two branches of government did their thing. The sound of helicopters above only added to the day’s heightened feel, but the most notable feeling for me, as I walked through the crowds in the bitter cold, was how upbeat the collective energy of the protestors felt. This was absolutely a politically driven event, but I’m not making a political statement here. To me, it was interestingly apolitical that the men and women who showed up in Lansing today seemed to believe that their presence in that very particular spot of the world was vital, even though all the pundits and analysts said it was game over for their side (and it was).

After work, I headed straight to the athletic club where I teach a beginning-level vinyasa-flow class. Tonight there were twice as many students as usual who were ready to challenge themselves with a mind-body practice. Some students I have seen every week for a year, and several were new. The feel in that room was one of determination — yoga may not necessarily come easily to them, but they weren’t going to give up and walk away.

I suppose what I’m saying is that in every setting I was in today, I was surrounded by people who had to make a conscious decision to show up — which is sometimes the hardest part. True, the shala and the gym’s yoga room aren’t divisive spaces like the protest grounds, which had an intense police presence, riot gear ready. Yet the collective feel in each was one of a group of people willing to do what it takes to show up to help create what they believe to be a set of better circumstances.

(What’s pretty inspiring on the yoga front is that it you can’t just marshal up that motivation once; it’s not a one-shot deal the way a protest might be. But I think that’s where collective energy can be so helpful to keep you fighting the good fight against laziness, inertia or a crazy schedule.)

So back to the questions. What do you show up for? I find that showing up to my yoga practice helps me be more present in everything else I do — my work, my marriage, my friendships, even how I process the feel of something like a right-to-work protest. And how do you go about being present once you’ve shown up? For me, I think that lately I’ve been working on putting forth the effort but trying to avoid clinging to what I want to happen (e.g., “I want to feel my body to feel light and my spine to feel supple this morning”), which allows me to be more receptive to what comes (note the emphasis on “trying”).

By the way, on the point of receptivity: Working on deep backbends — can you say kapotasana? — seems to help with the whole surrendering process (no kidding, right?!), which in turns seems to help me with the whole receptivity process.

That said, every new day is a test. I failed a couple of tests today (post-practice) and I passed others. We’ll see how tomorrow goes — starting with those backbends.

The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space (2011) (Courtesy of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor)

(Photo links: Free Press aerial shot; Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Mysore space)

© 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] Three questions for Jayashree and Narasimhan / The sutras as ‘a single string that gives a single meaning’

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Long day, up at 5 a.m. in my Eastern time zone, where it’s now the middle of the night. It’s only 1:30 a.m. here in California, where I just landed — a state that hasn’t been home for a decade and a half, yet still feels very much like home. Being a bit turned around on the whole space and time front seems like a fairly apt time to talk about how I started the week — with two evenings spent in workshops with Indian scholars Dr. M.A. Jayashree and M.A. Narasimhan, hosted by Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor. The sessions, as promised, went a little like this: “Monday, we will have an introduction to Indian philosophy and some chanting of the Samadhi Pada. Tuesday, we will focus on the eight (ashtau) limbs (anga) that asht-anga yoga comprises.”

Looking back, though, I can’t really separate day 1 from day 2, and one of my favorite quotes from the evenings was when Jayashree explained that Patanjali goes on like loops. Some people say “sutra” (singular) rather than “sutrani” (plural) to describe the yoga sutras, because every sutra is linked with the other (just as each of the four chapters of the books, or padas, of the Yoga Sutras are linked with the other):

It is a single string that gives a single meaning.

At minimum, we were told, “to understand one sutra, you need the previous, and the next.”

Jayashree, whose bright smile reminded me of my mom’s joy and radiance when she sings classical Thai songs, later illustrated the idea by the idea by sticking out her arm. “Can I call my hands as ‘Jayashree’? Can I call my eyes as ‘Jayashree’?”

‘Ashtanga is yoga’

When I was in Maui this spring for my honeymoon, I had the good fortune to meet the gorgeous and ginormous Banyan Tree (pictured above) that graciously unfolds in the town of Lahaina. One tree, many trees — it’s hard to tell, because you can’t quite discern where one ends and one begins. It reminded me of M.C. Escher drawings.

At some point, Narasimhan started discussing viveka and at some point, he said: “In the Indian system of thought, there is no black and white. No right or wrong. Shades of gray.” (This, in turn, reminded me of what I’ve been learning about Ayurveda, and the idea that there is no “good” or “bad” herb or mineral, for instance. Just the appropriate one for the appropriate condition.)

Loops

Here are some impressions, some moments:

  • One way to view yoga’s purpose? To create optimistic, happy and connected people who can in turn help make society happier and more connected.
  • It’s not accurate to view India as having many Gods. “There is only one primordial force,” Narasimham said. “We always follow the primordial force.” What, then, of all the images of deities — such as the unmistakable Ganesha, with his elephant head? Think of them as creative forces. “Creatives forces are represented as a god — small ‘g’ god.”
  • Ganesha is the remover of internal obstacles. A human being has a spinal column and two hemispheres, and from the back, the human body can appear like an elephant’s head.
  • Bramacharya is “controlled sex” rather than celibacy. So, even if you are married, you only have sex under certain circumstances, not just whenever and wherever; and that schedule is given in the scriptures.
  • The nervous system is the bridge between the physical and the mind.
  • Kriya yoga as physical, mental, emotional –> tapasya, svadyaya, isvara pranidhana –> action, knowledge, devotion/love –> karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga.
  • The electrical attraction between a cloth and dust creates a dirty cloth. You remove dirt by using a cleaning agent such as soap. Tapasya acts as a cleaning agent to help separate us from guilt, much the same way other cleaning agents work to break attraction. The eight limbs of yoga cleanses us physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Processes abound, but effort does not necessarily need to accompany those processes. Asana –> pranayama –> pratyahara. Dharana –> dhyana –> samadhi. You cannot put forth effort to express samadhi, which is the opposite of what happens in the external world, where typically, the more effort you put forth, the more you are rewarded.

I could share more impressions and more moments, or I could let you hear a little from the brother-and-sister team yourself. In the first video, they offer an unforgettable analogy of samadhi to none other than a cup of coffee — while name-checking Starbucks to boot. In the second question, they discuss subjects and objects. I think the springboard for the third question (questions and answers sort of overlapped, as you might imagine happens in this kind of discussion) was about Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, who was described as essentially a psychologist, with his work being more relevant today than ever before.

Three Questions

What is samadhi?

The second yoga sutra discusses “citta vrtti,” which you describe as loops. How can the first few sutras help us as human beings understand consciousness and our relationships with objects, and how can the sutras help us change our relationships with loop patterns?

What changes with yoga?

I am such a devotee of the ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice because I love its design. It’s beyond brilliant. And every time I learn more about the aphorisms that collectively make up Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, my respect grows. For me, listening to Jayashree and Narasimhan discuss the sutras — and chanting in Sanskrit along with them — helped illuminate the intricate yet I suppose ultimately simple architecture of the sutras. The images I’ve been feeling in the days since have been Escher-esque bridges, ropes and branches that loop, pathways that only appear linear, trap doors that actually liberate, and beginnings and ends that connect and recoil. It doesn’t matter where in this spiritual design you start. Walk along whichever foot path intrigues you most to discover a universal journey through your individual experience.

Links

(Photo credit: The famous Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui, via echobase_2000’s Flick Creative Commons license)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Workshop dispatch: Richard Freeman resources

I first tasted the teachings of Richard Freeman when I read The Mirror of Yoga earlier this year as part of an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat. I first met Richard at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this past March, where I was introduced to his vibrant and rich imagery — oh, that cobra hoodie! — and where I was lucky enough to get a nearly indescribable dropback adjustment from him (what I refer to as my Oh. My. God. dropback adjustment).

Miro Barn near Columbus, OhioWhen I met Richard again this past weekend inside a beautiful converted barn in Columbus, Ohio, I told him about that backbend, whose energy I think I still have in my body. He simply said, “Hmm. I must have slowed down your backbend.” There he was, being humble. I sort of wanted to shout, “THERE IS NO WAY THAT IS ALL YOU DID! COME ON, COP TO THE MAGIC POWERS YOU HAVE!” But I just smiled and we moved on to another subject.

At the end of the three days with Richard — after he was cool enough to talk to me for my Three Questions video series — I got into my car for the four-hour drive back home. Before I hit the highway, I had popped the first of his six-CD audio set, The Yoga Matrix, into my player, and I just finished the last CD. (All this really means is that I am ready to start round 2 of listening — there is just so much packed into these discussions.)

You probably already know this, but the guy is amazing. Here are some ways to get more Richard Freeman right now:

The Mirror of Yoga [book]

I got really into the book and read it about this time last year, and I also did a blog post here and here.

The Yoga Matrix: The Body as a Gateway to Freedom audio course

The Yoga MatrixAlthough I got a lot out of The Mirror of Yoga, for me, The Yoga Matrix is where it’s at. While Richard covers many of the same themes, it makes a big difference to be able to hear his voice, his intonation and his cadence. At the time I’m writing this, you can get the audio download for about the cost of three drop-in yoga classes ($36.73).

Pranayama: Unfolding the Secret Breath

This is what I woud love to dive into next (probably won’t have time until next year, though). From the official description:

Pranayama (literally “to release life energy from its bounds”) is considered the central practice that will lead you into the true promise of yoga: the experience of freedom itself. When performed correctly, this powerful form of conscious breathwork reveals the intricate web of your thoughts, physiology, and energetic patterns—helping you learn to quiet the mind, heighten receptivity, and open to what is referred to in yoga as the intrinsic radiance of being. Featuring six video sessions with Richard Freeman plus a wealth of lessons and exercises, Pranayama will teach you advanced yogic meditative techniques that will serve as a solid base for a longstanding practice.

The cost? An incredibly reasonable $49.

Classes, workshops, intensives, and archived studio talks

I know someone attending Richard’s intensive this January, and I can’t tell you how excited I am for him. Find all the details of Richard’s travels, intensives at his home studio, studio archives, and the occasional blog post, here. (Just a quick note to say that Richard has a scheduling conflict and won’t be teaching at the second annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence taking place in 2013.)

Social media

See his listing on the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid.

Have you studied with Richard Freeman? Would you add anything?

Richard Freeman head shot

Related links:

>>[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

© 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 practice of the yoga of politics (whatever that means), post-Election 2012

Practice (Obama's Hope version)

I forced myself to go to bed around 1:30 a.m. last night, after Mitt Romney made his concession speech. I desperately wanted to wait up for Barack Obama to give his speech, but I knew that would have definitely killed my chances of making the 60-minute drive to my shala for morning practice.

Stumbling around in the pre-dawn dark of my closest, I thought about wearing my Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Pattabhi Jois shirt tee done in the iconic style of the famous Obama “Hope” image but decided against it, given how charged this election was. Plus, I thought, better to continue the conversation by blogging the image instead.

There has hardly been a unified front among “the yoga community” about the incredibly high-stakes #Election2012 — but I think the conversation that has been taking place has been vocal and, as Matthew Remski called for, “muscular.” It goes without saying that yogis — especially the #yogisforobama crowd — continued to share their feelings today about the election.

Kino #yogisforobama tweet

Intent Blog today published “Is Yoga Political?” by Angela Jamison. Here’s a juicy slice of it:

I’m sympathetic to the apolitical argument. It goes like this: Yoga is in the transcendence business. Think like the Cosmos. The rest is and always has been small potatoes.

Now, there is a growing, healthy tendency for critical-minded yoga people to get very pissed off at transcendence teachings. We counter with the message of immanence: Here! Here! Now! Now! Relationships, Physicality, Food, Form! Fine, fine. But now that immanence is having its day in western yoga, let’s not throw the transcendence out with the bathwater. Or, phrased even worse: you can transcend your cake and eat it too.

To the question of whether yoga is historically apolitical, I can only speak casually to my own lineage. I’m a student of the direct students of Pattabhi Jois; and for extra edification and clarity of transmission I study with senior a senior Iyengar teacher, a senior student of TKV Desikachar, and others whose line goes directly to Krishnamacharya. Nobody knows what yoga is. But I do at least know my family line; I teach the way my teachers in the tradition of Pattabhi Jois taught me to teach, and only because they support me in doing so. Lineage gives me a sense of history and accountability, and helps me answer hard questions like: Is yoga political?

WWKD? WWSKPJD? Q.E.D.

Yes, it’s apparently political. I’ll start from the root. The mula guru of my lineage was outspoken and crazy progressive in his politics. This singular man, T. Krishnamacharya, took radical political initiatives. If he hadn’t, would we even be here?

Krishnamacharya went to work for Wodeyar, a prince who in the early 1900 was in some ways more politically enlightened than Mitt Romney (Wodeyar championed public health and, if I am not mistaken, was one of the first Indian politicians to support some form of birth control for women). He pushed the envelope of the teachable to encompass women and foreigners, and wrote the radical book Yoga Makaranda in a passionate effort to legitimate yoga practice (previously considered punk ass nonsense) among everyday people. Word is people said he was crazy.

From there I only know about my own branch of the lineage – that of Pattabhi Jois. What I know is mostly conversational – part of the oral tradition I have recieved – but what does seem clear is that SKPJ took Krishnamacharya’s envelope and expanded it further in some places. (Some say SKPJ convinced his guru to expand that envelope in the first place.) More foreigners and more westerners were given the teachings, and eventually he broke with his rumored refusal to teach Muslims (to this day, Mysore city is extremely segregated, and there is significant tension and oppression between Hindu majority and the large population of Muslims). In time, and especially with my teacher Sharath’s leadership of the ashtanga yoga lineage, more women would be empowered as senior teachers.

At this moment, the environment is coming online in my lineage as a zone of political responsibility. The week before last, Sharath spoke to students gathered in Mysore, saying that instead of having a third child, he will plant a tree. He told the students to plant trees and take care of the environment, and said that this is part of yoga.

The popular argument that yoga is apolitical comes not from an understanding of modern yoga history, but from a mistaken grafting of “yoga” on to the definition of “business.” BUSINESS is apolitical. Politics in America are one part culture wars and three parts class warfare. And for godsakes if you want to make money, you do not participate in class warfare.

Over at YogaBrains, Derek Beres wrote today:

At YogaBrains we had our most trafficked weekend in our young history after posting a series of articles endorsing Obama. While we received push back on various blogs and comment sections about bringing politics into the yoga community, we heard more positive feedback than not. In my practice, the heart of yoga is not about debating what some text written 2,500 years ago by someone I will never meet from a culture I will never be able to properly imagine ‘means.’ I prefer to stick to the basics: unity, discriminative thinking, self-reflection, non-harming and -stealing. My ‘practice’ is defined by the life I live, not the 90 minutes I spend a few times a week exercising. This, inevitably, means engagement with the culture I live in.

So while I was thrilled to see so much activity regarding politics over the last few weeks, I can only say: Don’t stop now. Politics is not only an election-time process. Lately I’ve seen otherwise intelligent people argue that Obama did not push through a number of issues, without stopping to consider that we just experienced the most divided Congress in our nation’s history, which put forth a record number of filibusters. The GOP banked on people not paying attention, and in many ways, they achieved that goal without trying much. That allowed them to craft new arguments over the last two months with little concern, knowing that the majority of Americans were asleep at the wheel.

If it is to be us who helps define the route our country is taking, we must stay engaged and involved politically. Put aside your time for meditation, breathing and postures; just don’t spend it all there. That calm force you cultivate must be put into action in the country that helped create an environment for you to freely practice your spiritual ambitions.

Pattabhi Jois’ 99 percent practice, 1 percent theory — does it/should it apply to politics as well as yoga? All I know is that until this week, I would never have never considered sharing my political allegiances in a presidential race on my yoga blog. (Part of that is that I was trained as a mainstream journalist in the old-school tradition that dictates that you avoid airing your personal political views at all costs — you don’t ever so much as sign a petition). But as I continued to step on my mat six days a week, as I read more and more of what thoughtful yogis were saying, and as I reflected about why I backed the candidate I backed, it seemed more yogic — not less — to share my concerns about the direction one of the candidates would lead this country down should he be elected.

Our political leaders hold tremendous responsibilities. As citizens and yogis, so do we.

Related links:

>>I rolled out my mat, and then I voted. #Election2012
>>Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

© 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.

Radiant sources, power lunches and the influence of all those wordy words

Star Ruby

Dominic had a ring with a mesmerizingly radiant stone, and before I had to say goodbye to him I finally asked him what the stone was. Turns out it was a star ruby. Pictured here is a star ruby housed at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dominic Corigliano, my teacher’s teaching mentor, guest taught at the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor shala this past week during, appropriately enough, the waxing moon — a time when the moon is making its way around the earth, looming larger until it reaches its full state.

When Angela Jamison announced that Dominic was coming, I was looking forward to seeing how this would work. For one thing, yoga students like to meet their teacher’s teacher. I think part of it is awe: Who is this person who inspired someone as inspiring as my teacher? Part of it is curiosity: Will this person be anything like I’ve pictured him or her to be? Part of it is simply excitement.

For another, I’m accustomed to Ashtanga workshops structured around themes: bandhas, adjustments, and so on. So I wondered: What happens during a highly anticipated visit by a Mysore teacher to a highly traditional shala when there were no workshops or guided classes scheduled? How does all the juicy stuff — the subtle and mind-blowingly important observances culled from decades of practice, learning and teaching — get passed on?

~~~

Dominic was wearing a T-shirt with “Shiva” written in a KISS font the first morning I met him, before the Mysore class got underway. He struck me as a down-to-earth ashtangi with a quiet punk rock vibe. HIs adjustments were firm yet gentle, and when he did use words, they were quite matter-of-fact.

By the end of his visit here, I realized I have been drinking from the energetic currents of Dominic’s teachings for years now — much in the same way you are infused with the rhythm and the passion of the pioneering blues masters when you listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest work.

~~~

"Before, Again II"

“Before, Again II” by Joan Mitchell, housed at the DIA. The image links to a video that discussing the artist’s influences.

The third time I was in his orbit, it was for a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts with a small group from AY: A2. I joined the group late, however, and contemplated calling someone’s cell phones when I arrived to avoid the goose hunt of trying to locate half a dozen people in a huge building. For whatever reason, I decided to wing it instead. I walked slowly and tried to let my intuition guide me and I guess I didn’t do too badly, considering that I found them in about five minutes. I squinted down hallways for Angela’s spritely movements, but how I actually found the group was by spotting, for a second, a ponytail gliding down a hallway. Dominic could have been any museum-goer, but there was such a calm about this figure that I figured I was in the right place. He was totally enthralled with the pieces he was viewing when I caught up. One thing I’ve noticed with the senior Western teachers I’ve met: They are so present in everything they do.

~~~

After the DIA, we all headed to a cute little cafe called Le Petite Zinc, a healthy and delicious lunch spot a short drive away. I don’t remember what prompted this, but I asked Dominic about teaching Ashtanga yoga versus teaching its hyper-popular offshoots of power yoga and vinyasa yoga. Dominic knew that I’ve studied with Tim Miller, so he explained that he and Tim go back a long, long way — back to Encinitas, where the power yoga style was inadvertently sparked as they tried to offer Ashtanga in a way that would appeal to settings such as health clubs.

Dominic said tweaks to the method — such as modifying poses for people with knee problems — were always done in the service of trying to help students eventually connect back with the traditional Ashtanga method. The same goes for using music, which Dominic pioneered. He explained that he used music as a way of working with states of hypnosis. (What he didn’t do was use iconic songs with familiar riffs and lyrics the way some of the most popular vinyasa teachers today do.)

~~~

I’m going to pause here to say that yesterday on the Inside Owl blog, Angela reposted one of her posts from 2007, in which she talks about Dominic’s teaching method and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (emphasis below is mine):

Before putting myself into bhairvasana for the first time today—or rather, letting it take me into itself with another’s guidance—I had feared that it would be something of a long, slow trainwreck: a daily undertaking that could open up my sacroiliac joints to an unsustainable gape. Make me a bag of ligamentless bones by 50.

A year ago, maybe; but my body’s been tilled for this and it’s simply a nice, new little habit that takes me to a previously unknown part of myself.

I can say this only because the way the posture was given made it second nature, if not downright natural. No big deal.

This is because my teacher understands the power of suggestion, and how to relate with a student in or near theta state to create an easy and beautiful reality out of our weirdest possibilities. Not only is this teacher on to the NLP (a comment about establishing rapport the first day made me suspicious), but he just doesn’t complicate the yoga.

Imagine what would have happened had Angela circa 2007 been introduced to this pose — “’Siva’s terrible aspect,’ a posture in honor of the deity’s skull-amulet-bearing, fratricidal side” – in a way laden with verbal cues telling her what the pose would be like or should be like for her.

~~~

Back to the lunchtime conversation. Dominic told me that he approached non-Mysore classes as how to use fewer and fewer words. He put it so well and I wish I had taken notes (actually, that’s not really true — I don’t wish I had taken notes, because that would have destroyed the casual lunch vibe). We basically talked about the constraints placed on students when too many words are used. I was fascinated by whether some of the most seemingly feel-good words in a yoga class can actually serve as distractions from a deeper type of empowerment that could happen if a teacher were to do more of holding space than creating space.

(As we ate our crepes and salads served up at a place dedicated to simple and classic cuisine, it was interesting to think about sourcing Ashtanga instruction the way food is sourced — whether as a consumer only or both a consumer (because all teachers have to be students first) and a producer. No matter what kind of sustenance, tapping into a strong current whose source remains vibrant and clean helps us flourish. What types of food are going into this body? What types of instruction are passing into this nervous system? As a teacher, I need to ask myself whether the words I’m using are organic — what will their effects be? Or am I relying on pretty words with artificial flavorings and empty calories, void of any true nutritional properties?)

And as Dominic talked, I had a flash to a post from earlier this year on Angela’s other blog — the AY: A2 blog — about the poverty of verbal instruction:

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.

Sitting across from Dominic while hearing bits of this blog post rolling around my mind felt a bit like watching time-elapsed parampara.

If you’re not familiar with parampara, it helps to go back to the KPJAYI website (emphasis below is mine):

Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara.
Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is parampara.
The dharma, or duty, of the student is to practice diligently and to strive to understand the teachings of the guru. The perfection of knowledge – and of yoga — lies beyond simply mastering the practice; knowledge grows from the mutual love and respect between student and teacher, a relationship that can only be cultivated over time.
The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught.
The bonding of teacher and student is a tradition reaching back many thousands of years in India, and is the foundation of a rich, spiritual heritage. The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.
The yoga tradition exists in many ancient lineages, but today some are trying to create new ones, renouncing or altering their guru’s teachings in favor of new ways. Surrendering to parampara, however, is like entering a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that age-old masters have followed into an ocean of knowledge. Even so, not all rivers reach the ocean, so one should be mindful that the tradition he or she follows is true and selfless.
Many attempt to scale the peaks in the Himalayas, but not all succeed. Through courage and surrender, however, one can scale the peaks of knowledge by the grace of the guru, who is the holder of knowledge, and who works tirelessly for his students.

~~~

It’s only now crystallizing for me that the legacy of Dominic’s teachings have been filtering to me through strong and distinct currents:

  • The power yoga classes I started taking in 2009 as part of a yoga teacher training program I had enrolled in not for the purpose of teaching, but to deepen my understanding of the eight limbs of yoga. (Interesting to reflect on power yoga classes as adaptations — sometimes truer to the original and sometimes highly marketed, far-flung versions of the original — of an Encinitas-based yoga experiment to make the Ashtanga practice more accessible all those years ago.)
  • The clean and direct transmissions as experienced through my embodied teacher’s presence when I am in her room.
  • The way my teacher writes about the practice — from a 2012 blog post about the use of language all the way back to a 2007 post on use of language in a room, as written in the Inside Owl blogger’s voice.

Here I was, having my first true conversation with a man who until now had just been a name and a relationship — Dominic, my teacher’s teacher — and what happens? The conversation we gravitated toward dealt with the subconscious — the not-quite-apparent layers. Manifestations of my teacher were playing at the edges and communicating between us at times, but those versions, while offering something, also provided inadequate words for the experience. Also inadequate was trying to use this conversation as a mirror to check out how all of this energy is being integrated within me, and how it flows out of me when I write and when I teach.

~~~

Looking back over the week, how did transmissions happen? It wasn’t through a guided class. It wasn’t through a workshop lecture. It wasn’t even the words that were actually exchanged at lunch. 

Dominic hopped on a plane out of Detroit yesterday, and I’m wondering if his energy, his physical adjustments, and the post-practice conversation all has to simply be understood. I believe in the power of technology — of social media in particular — to help ashtangis around the world stay connected as a community. But it’s the quieter moments of being in the sphere of brilliant and deeply present teachers like Dominic that reminds me of the limitations of those mediums. What’s being passed on isn’t data — parampara is necessarily so present, so personal.

(Photo credit: “The Midnight Star” via Islespunkfan’s Flickr photostream and “Before, Again II” via Dia.org.) 

© 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 is there a tongue scraper in our bathroom?” — and other adventures in trying my first Ayurvedic cleanse

Ghee and tea, oh my

For the past week, my husband has put up with more of my yogi ways than usual around our house. The other night he came out of our downstairs bathroom and asked very matter-of-factly: “What is a tongue scraper?”

I explained that I had bought the tongue scraper now housed in the bathroom because scraping your tongue in the morning is part of the 10-day Ayurvedic fall cleanse I’m participating in.

He didn’t ask me any more questions after that — although I’ve kept him more informed than he probably wants to be about the morning ghee protocol, the evening oil massage, and the castor oil purgation to come.

This is my first-ever cleanse. I’ve always been weary of cleanses, because most of the ones I’ve been told about have instructions that boil down to: Don’t eat, take these supplements and stay close to a bathroom for two days. Thanks, but no thanks.

I was much more intrigued when the opportunity to participate in this cleanse came up, since it’s based on the principles of Ayurveda. Sweetening the pot even more was that I would not be doing this cleanse alone, but rather going through it with a group from Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor.

Ayurveda as a way of life

Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston, who provides Ayurvedic consultations (remotely if needed) and is leading our cleanse, describes Ayurveda this way on her website:

Ayurveda is not merely a system of medicine, it is a way of life.

Ayurveda originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is the oldest continuously practiced health-care system in the world. Ayurveda is the science of nature, largely preventative medicine, enhancing self-awareness to help us make choices that support well-being. This system encourages us to catch imbalance before it begins to create disease.

We had a kickoff meeting last Friday evening, with Kate, who also teaches Ashtanga, joining us from Boston via a Google+ hangout. It was extremely helpful that she started out with the fundamentals. According to the principles of Ayurveda, toxins are stored in the body’s fat, because the fat’s not going anywhere. So the design of this fall cleanse — to de-gunk the body — is to get the body to start burning stored fat. How to do that? Well, start by not feeding the body any fat — which means eating only three non-fat meals a day (no snacking in between!) spaced far enough apart that the body goes into fat-burning mode.

And the cleanse addresses more than what we consume. There’s the morning neti pot and tongue-scraping. (See the Kiki Says video on the practice of scraping the tongue.) There’s also dry brushing and abhyanga, the art of the oil massage.

In short, this is not about weight loss. This is about flushing toxins, regaining an effective digestive system, and maybe even gaining a new lifestyle that’s balanced and supports well-being on the deepest levels.

Three tracks — and don’t be a fundamentalist

This cleanse was billed as one that you could do while still going about your daily routine — the third reason why I decided this was the cleanse I wanted to try. Kate was great about emphasizing that this is not the time to be a fundamentalist, and she offered three different “tracks” depending on how your life is going at the moment. In our cleanse manual, Kate writes:

The largest cause of dis‐ease is stress, so if you are uncomfortable or stressed out, you can always shorten the cleanse. The nervous system must be calm in order for the body to burn fat and remove toxins. There is no reason to force yourself to do anything. Use this time to explore yourself, not to give yourself a hard time.

Our group members all went through three days of a pre-cleanse together, in which we cut out caffeine, soy, dairy and meat. We focused on whole grains such as quinoa and rice, and on cooked greens and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Then, people took different routes for the main cleanse:

  • Some stayed with the pre-cleanse diet for five days.
  • Others changed to a mono-diet of non-fat kitchari, the yogi comfort food of basmati rice, split mung beans, steamed vegetables and spices. Kitchari is very easy to digest.
  • Some opted for the full cleanse, which is the mono-diet but with the added component of taking warm ghee — clarified butter — in the morning. The idea with this version is that the ghee starts to permeate our tissues, dislodging toxins and bringing them down to the colon.

Some, like me, are doing a four-day main cleanse. Others are going for five.

‘Gheetotaler’

Organic gheeSo yeah, the ghee. I was waffling on whether to go the mono-diet route or the full cleanse with ghee, and in the end — thanks to my husband’s encouragement, actually — I went the ghee route. I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I’ve been able to go about my daily business even with the ghee protocol. And shhh — I didn’t mind the teaspoons of warmed up ghee in the morning. (I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it either.) As my friend Tim (who has decided he is now a “gheetotaler”) described it, “It’s like taking in the essential spirit of the best bucket of popcorn you ever had.” Some in our group decided that the ghee is great with a ginger tea chaser (which is allowed in this cleanse).

Taking the plunge

Tonight, I’ll be taking the castor oil purge (!), which is the end of the main cleanse. That’s another first for me, as you can imagine — I’ve never even tried the castor oil bath that ashtangis are enamored of, much less ever ingested the stuff.

Bathroom counter

Part of the Ayurveda seasonal cleanse toolkit: neti pot, tongue scraper, dry brush (in back), sunflower oil. (Sesame oil is actually recommended for the oil massage, but I am allergic to the stuff.)

After that, it’ll be three days of a post-cleanse that’s similar to the pre-cleanse — and from there, return to what will hopefully be a new normal. I loved the pre-cleanse diet, and hope to start integrating more of those types of meals into my daily life. I already use the neti pot and I’m not adverse to incorporating the daily dry brushing and the tongue-scraping. (Not sure what my in-laws will think about all these new additions to the counter space when they visit next weekend, since they’ll be taking over that bathroom.) The oil massage does feel lovely, but it’s too time-consuming for me to do more than once in a while.

That said, I must admit that I am looking forward to drinking coffee and pomegranate oolong tea lattes again. I was surprised that I wasn’t really hungry during this cleanse — found it quite filling, in fact. Who could guess that I had the discipline to not snack. What it turns out I missed most were my drinks, like cranberry juice and almond-milk-based tea lattes.

Goodbye for now, rajas

Especially since this is my first cleanse, I can’t say enough how important it was to have a skilled cleanse leader in Kate — and to have the support of the group (we stayed connected through a Google group). A cleanse can bring up some intense emotions, and it’s helpful — and more fun — to go through it with friends.

During the pre-cleanse, my body was, as apparently happens to many people, achy. Since starting the ghee protocol, I have definitely felt the need to go slower — way slower — during my day (a very strange feeling for me to have!). Heading into the cleanse, Kate had cautioned us to only practice primary series during the cleanse, but said that some of us may need to do very abbreviated practices. (Turns out I was in the latter group — more than anything, my body has needed time to rest this week).

What’s been so interesting to me is that my mind has seemed quieter somehow during the main cleanse. If my head space were a college town, it feels like the end of the term, when students have all left for the break. While I do miss the rajas a bit — you should see how much I am putting off until next week — I have to admit that this is nice.

© 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.

 

Visualizing our journeys — on and with — our yoga mats

Two new projects developed by urban ashtangis — one in Chicago and another in Boston — seek to help visualize our relationships with our mats. They’re both about our journeys — on and with — our mats, and they’re both projects you can contribute to.

Morgan Lee’s “The Path of Yoga” Kickstarter project

If enough Kickstarter backers come through, Morgan Lee — a registered nurse, yoga instructor and all-seasons biker in Chicago — will create a photo book documenting his travels with Ashtanga yoga from the perspective of his yoga mat. According to his project’s  Kickstarter page:

I believe that there are no limits to where the physical practice of yoga can take an individual. Through documenting the journey of my travels from the perspective of the mat, I will show that the Path of Yoga is more than practicing postures, asana, and regardless of location steady focus lends to the peace-fullness within the practice. Through the images in this book I will show that no matter where yoga is practiced, it leads to transformation.

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Why the donations?

Using analog 120mm film and a Holga camera (skinny jeans included) to capture a moment from the back edge of the mat creating a ‘dream like’ image, I will compile the images into a book that can be shared with you. Your money will go directly into funding the film and cost of publishing 100 copies of the ‘Path of Yoga’.

This project needs $3,000 in contributions by Oct. 31 to fly. At the time I’m posting this, 32 backers have pledged $1,750. Backers can help support the project with as little as a $1 pledge.

The Runways Gallery

Runways -- screenshot from the Small Blue Pearls websiteLaura Shaw Feit, a book designer from Boston, has recently relaunched the Small Blue Pearls website, and she’s got a lot of energy out of the gate with the Runways Gallery project:

Whether rolling out your Manduka on a silky white beach in Thailand, or sharing space with Mom’s Land Rover in the garage, no matter where you are on this great blue planet all you need is a mat’s worth of space to do what yogis do.

We’re collecting photos from all over the world of the hectic and serene, the dirty and pristine, the cramped and cavernous places people have laid out their mats in order to practice—either when traveling or just in the course of their normal day. Once we have a critical mass of these runways—approximately 750 of them (yeah, we know that’s a lot!)—then we promise you, they will be put to a really good use 😉 Stay tuned! In the meantime, we’ll feature them here on the site.

 

 

 

This project came about this way:

The Runway series was originated by Angela Jamison, founder and teacher at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2). Inspired by her brother Aaron’s habit of taking photos of everyplace he set up his laptop to work, Angela started taking photos of all the places she found herself practicing. When Aaron saw Angela’s photos, he declared them ‘runways’, which we think is just brilliant. We’d like to say thank you to Angela and Aaron, for the inspiration and the permission to take this fabulous idea and turn it into art.

See if you can spot my iPhone shot of my rug, which was taken in Maui during my honeymoon earlier this year. I have shots from far less glorious locations too, but I’ll have to dig through my iPhoto archives to find them. I know you’ve you’ve got some old photos to dig up too.

© 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.

21 tips for dragging your sleepy butt out of bed to practice yoga in the mornings

Sleepy Puppy

>>Skip to the tips

There’s been a fair amount of ruminations lately about that unique time before and around dawn, and I wonder if it has something to do with the equinox and the changing of seasons. Just this morning, Mysore SF posted this Rumi poem on its Facebook page:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

A friend of mine in Ohio noted her reflections on finally getting back to the mat today. And the AY: A2 blog recently posted “How to get up for yoga, again,” an update to the shala’s popular 2011 post, “How to wake up for yoga.” Earlier in September, Claudia Yoga posted “7 morning habits for a great yoga practice,” which includes how she deals with social media — what can be a beast lurking in the wee hours of the morning.

I thought about practicing at home in the mornings for years but didn’t manage to actually start trying in earnest until 2011 (“How to wake up for yoga,” along with support and encouragement from my teacher, helped me tremendously). The first months were the hardest, and just this August, I started in on my second year of practicing Ashtanga yoga six days a week. During this relatively short amount of time, I’ve felt tremendous benefits from practicing early in the morning (and I’ve felt the difference between practicing in the morning versus the evening).

So I too have been thinking a lot about how to bridge that gap of getting up early, because I wonder what it would have taken Rose circa 2009 — the one who slept around 2 a.m. every night and didn’t ever think she had the chops to change — to be able to start (starting, for me, was the hardest part).

Below are 21 tips for starting. They’re a mix of things I learned the hard way, advice I received from my teacher and tips from other practitioners.

Will they work for you? Only experimentation will tell.

Sunrise
Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
Because I had practiced for years in the evenings, I had to recalibrate my expectations about how a practice physically feels. I had to accept that when I practice in the morning, my body is cold and stiff. A pretty cool thing happened over the course of a few short months, however: I started minding less and less. The “I’m a natural evening practitioner” mantra I had chanted for so many years had been a myth that I created, bought into, and perpetuated by making others believe it as well. That detachment from needing my body to feel supple led to a greater sense of equanimity with the body I happened to have for that practice, and that ability to find equanimity started extending to other things. In becoming more detached from desiring that yummy factor I was accustomed to from the physical practice, I was working through a process that also helped me clean out my emotional closets.

. . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
I fell in love with this description of pratyhara from the Insideowl blog when I first read it:

Sense withdrawal is not the self-denial we post-Puritans can misunderstand it to be, but a ripening ecstasy of reversing the ever-seeking senses to the inside. Imagine you had two ear trumpets, and two eye searchlights, and so on, so that you could suck your perception inside your bodymind and delight in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves.

If you can tap into the warm, bright and stimulating carnival of your inner spaces, the room around you may start to matter less to you. Turning your gaze inward won’t happen overnight, but you can help the process along by not staying fixated on the external. Easier said than done, I know, which is why there are 19 more tips to go.

Trumpet

Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
This simple device will save you! I got one of those tall ones that can oscillate if needed, and it cost about $70. It was $70 of the best dollars I spent in 2011.

If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
This gives you one less reason to resist practicing at home (because, let’s face it, unless you have a beautiful yoga room at home, it’s so much nicer to practice at a dedicated yoga studio).

Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
We all love our mats, but we love our beds too. The problem is that a bed — and particularly the pillows on a bed — transform overnight: everything gets softer, plusher and more inviting. So not only do you have to find an alternative to hitting the snooze button, you have to commit to it before you go to bed. Your Plan B might be that when the alarm goes off, you will jump in the shower before you give yourself the chance to hit snooze and fall back into your super comfortable bed.

Start hydrating the night before your practice.

CoconutAshtangis should be well-hydrated anyway, but I found that I had to make a special effort to hydrate at night in order to start a consistent morning practice. (The reason being that one of the big deterrents for me in going from practicing in the evening to practicing in the morning is that I usually wake up feeling totally parched.) What has worked for me: drinking a juice-box-sized coconut water before bed, drinking another one when I wake up, and generally consuming more liquids throughout the day.

On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
After a year of practicing six days a week and mostly in the morning — but not super early morning — I realized that to get my practice to the next level, I would need to start waking up earlier. Otherwise, I would forever be confined to less-than-full-primary-series practices. In terms of time, the gap between 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. isn’t huge, but experientially, it felt as insurmountable as trying to leap across an ocean. The advice from my teacher, Angela Jamison, to start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before was instrumental in taking that leap. Key to that was thinking about my digestive patterns. Because of my schedule, I normally eat dinner pretty late — sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m. What has been working for me to wake up in that magical pre-dawn space is to eat no later than 8:30 p.m., and to eat a light dinner (“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” has been a good guideline for me). Experiment, figure out what works best for you digestively, and roll with that as your schedule.

Consume sleepiness . . . 
I drink a little fennel tea before bed, and it’s been lovely. Maybe herbal melatonin is your preferred boost of ZZZs? Perhaps it’s skullcap? (I can’t speak to the latter two, but see the comments found here.)

. . . instead of consuming alcohol.
Wines constantly I know, I know. But it’s just really quite hard to train yourself to wake up super early if you drink the night before, even if it’s a glass of your preferred pinot noir with dinner. Perhaps try it out for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a difference?

Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
If your mornings are typically rushed affairs like mine are, even 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference. I set out my clothes ahead of time and I set up the coffee pot so that all I have to do is hit start when I get up (see coffee tip below). This prevents an opening to start procrastinating in the morning.

Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
Pattabhi Jois is known for saying, “no coffee, no prana.” I resisted the idea of drinking coffee before practice because I didn’t want to depend on it and because I didn’t have time to make coffee before practice. But now that I’m waking up earlier, I’ve found lately that a few sips has helped me feel warmer and move with a little more oomph. Coffee can dehydrate me, though, so that’s another reason why it’s so important to start hydrating the night before. And by all means, if you can do this without coffee, go for it. But since we’re discussing ways to help get a practice up and running, I think it’s worth a consideration.

Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
A few practitioners I know have morning rituals that include different things — for instance, lighting a candle, burning incense, or dedicating that morning’s practice to someone. For some, it’s reading. Claudia Azula says that for her, “Good yoga literature helps me get inspired in the morning . . .” Good literature would totally derail my morning — I would never get to work on time. Thinking about rituals is a good reminder that so much of this stuff is personal — and if it works for you, roll with it! If it doesn’t, drop it.

.. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
No social media before breakfastUnless I know my work day will absolutely blow up if I don’t address an email right when I get up, I don’t allow myself to get within 10 feet of either of my email inboxes, my Twitter feed or my Facebook page, because if I do, I’ve just lost 20 – 30 minutes of my morning. I force myself to stay clear from the types of distractions that are delivered through mobile devices and laptops because it makes for a less anxiety-ridden practice if I am not worrying about all the work-related things I will need to think about beginning in two hours.

Take a hot shower before practice.
On super cold days when your mettle is still being strengthened, a hot shower can be the perfect external support. Just don’t stay too long and give yourself another space to procrastinate in. 😉

Ramp it up if you have to.
If you are ready to start practicing six days a week right off the bat, awesome! For most of us, it’s hard to go from a sporadic practice to practicing six mornings a week at home, in the cold and dark. Consider committing to practicing three mornings a week at first. Commit, and don’t veer. Enjoy the four days off you have, and do what you need to do to get on the mat those three days. Over the time, the practice might just naturally coax you into practicing additional days a week . . .

Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
My teacher told me to get to the mat, and practice in the time I have — and it was the single most important thing for me to hear. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year, Nancy Gilgoff said during one panel discussion about practicing six days a week: “Sometimes your practice may be 15 minutes . . .” See the above tip: I truly believe that over time, the practice will naturally help you find a way to lengthen your time on the mat. In my first year of practice, when I was trying to buy a house, plan a wedding, teach yoga, blog and hold down a deadline-driven full-time job, there were days when I literally was running out of time. The way I gauged a practice was: Did I practice long enough to have to invest something of myself? And did I practice long enough to find a challenge? Practicing for 15 minutes can give you that — investing time that you would have rather been checking to-do items off your list, for instance. As for challenge — well damn, the hardest part of an early morning practice for me is often the sun salutations, when I might be questioning why I am doing this as I body seems to creak with every bend. The good news? It gets easier. It really does. :-)

Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
Hopefully, you have supportive friends and family members. Explain what you’re trying to do. They’re on your side, so if they know how important this is to you, they can start to help support your practice in ways large and small (it might be as simple as moving up the time of a dinner date so that you’re not sleeping so late).

Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
You don’t have to start your own online Way-Before-Breakfast Club like a small group of us did back in August, but if you can find even a couple of yogis to start this journey with you, the camaraderie, support and feedback can be invaluable. You can keep yourself accountable with local yogis, or, if you can’t find any local yogis, we’re living during such an expansive and global world these days — find a couple yogis who live halfway around the world if that’s what ends up working best. Our group of a dozen currently has members from four countries.

Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .  
The other week, I overhead a little boy ask his father who had just finished practicing yoga, “Why do you do yoga?” His dad answered simply, “Because it makes me feel better.” You are trying to practice more consistently because yoga first and foremost makes you feel better, right?

. . . and have a little faith too.
This practice is so evidence-based. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to take anything on faith. Instead, you get to try something out and see for yourself how it feels. But I think it helps to have a little faith in the idea that the practice changes if you can find it consistently. (I think we can practice without attachment to a result while still practicing with faith in transformation.) The traditional Ashtanga method is designed in a very particular way, and the effects build — exponentially, it feels sometimes to me — over time. So this is a rare moment when I will say to take my word — and the word of I don’t know how many ashtangis all around the world — who have experienced the difference between practicing randomly all over the map versus practicing consistently six days a week. During those dark mornings when you’re sleepy and stumbling over your two left feet, when you’re cold and crabby and thinking you should just head back to bed, know that it is all worth it. And have faith that you are not alone: There are practitioners all over the world doing the exact same thing, probably feeling lots of the same things you’re feeling.

‘Alchemize your word.’
I love this phrase, and I think of this advice as the yogic translation of Nike’s “Just do it” edict for athletes. The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog began the recent essay about how to wake up for yoga with the advice to “alchemize your word”:

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Here is the whole blog post, which, as I noted at the beginning of this blog post, is essentially part 2 to the 2011 post on how to wake up for yoga.

If you’re a list type of person, here’s a summary:

  • Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
  • . . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
  • Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
  • If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
  • Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
  • Start hydrating the night before your practice.
  • On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
  • Consume sleepiness . . .
  • . . . instead of consuming alcohol.
  • Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
  • Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
  • Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
  • .. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
  • Take a hot shower before practice.
  • Ramp it up if you have to.
  • Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
  • Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
  • Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
  • Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .
  • . . . and have a little faith too.
  • ‘Alchemize your word.’

Happy practicing!

(Photo credit: Sleepy puppy by Nicole Kelly; Coconut and trumpet via Stock.Xchng)

© 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.

Got injuries? Reimagining the Ashtanga practice to help injuries heal

Have you seen this YouTube video posted by Argentina-based OmarYoga of two men practicing primary series, one doing the traditional sequence and one adapting the sequence to accommodate a broken femur? It was posted in 2011, but I didn’t see it until yesterday. I can’t get over how seriously beautiful and brilliant it is in how it reimagines the Ashtanga practice while staying true to the design of the practice.

The video has about 9,785 views at the time I’m seeing it — kind of a shame, especially when compared with what has been reported as the Ashtanga YouTube video with the most page views (nearly 2.7 million views).

On the subject of injuries, here’s another one in which Kino MacGregor demos one way for someone with wrist injuries to practice Ashtanga and still maintain heat:

Paul Gold recently wrote a blog post about healing injuries with Ashtanga:

If one gets injured practicing yoga, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Also, if one gets injured doing some other activity, yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. Finally, if one begins yoga practice with a preexisting injury, the yoga practice is the best way to heal and rehabilitate. From my experience, yoga practice is an amazing healer.

Healing an injury with Ashtanga Yoga is possible and requires daily practice. Taking days off regardless of how one’s feeling is ultimately detrimental to the healing process. Unlike working out, the effects of yoga practice are cumulative. The body’s natural reaction to injury is to contract and armour. Yoga encourages the afflicted area to move when it wants to petrify. Taking days off between practices just makes the body stiffer under normal circumstances, but even more so with an injury or chronic condition.

Students often wait until their aches and pains are gone before returning to class. They’ll disappear and return saying they needed to rest their injury. The truth, however, is that the pain is not gone and the injury hasn’t healed. The problem simply went underground while they were resting and was patiently waiting to return. Whatever imbalance or bad habit caused the pain or injury hasn’t been addressed or corrected. The pains and injury return as soon as the student is back on the mat.

It is a shame that some students who aren’t willing to follow the prescription for daily practice end up quitting and saying that “ashtanga yoga doesn’t work” or “yoga made my pain worse.” This just isn’t true.

The first thing a student must do when using the practice to heal and rehabilitate is adapt. It is necessary when injured to scale back practice so that it’s appropriate as therapy. That very often means having a very basic and short practice for awhile where the level of sensation to the injured area is deliberately kept at zero.

The comments section of the post show dissenting views on the idea of practicing through injury — to a point where the Paul Gold devoted a second post to the one particular comment.

Richard Freeman has also recently addressed injuries on his blog:

If you’re practicing a series other than primary and you end up injuring yourself due to problematic alignment or technique, do you recommend going back to primary until the injury heals? Or should you stick to the same series you were practicing when you were injured, adding modifications necessary to work around the injury?
– Erica

 

That would depend on the exact nature of the injury or of the problem. Sometimes the primary series can cause problems—even those that crop up in more advanced series. It’s helpful to learn the anatomy and biomechanics associated with the problem area.

Working carefully and intelligently with injury is an important part of any yoga practice. Yoga should make the body healthier rather than harming it. Though one has to be intelligent rather than fanatical and mechanical. Having a good teacher to give guidance and feedback, and listening carefully to the internal cues that your body is giving you is very important.

I think Richard ends with what is the key point for me, at least: Having a good teacher is important.

© 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.

 

 

Enlightenment 2.0? 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics & Practice is now out

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

Earlier this year, funders were being collected through a campaign on Indiegogo (Indiegogo: “The world’s funding platform. Go fund yourself.”) to complete a collection of essays driven by a “DIY collaborative ethos.” A total of 72 funders contributed $3,086, and some knew only this about the project:

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

My Ashtanga teacher is one of the contributors, but that’s not the only reason I’m looking forward to my copy arriving in the mail. I think what I’m most excited about is that between this book and the upcoming Kickstarter-funded Roots of Yoga, 2012 seems to be a good year for intellectually refreshing, community-supported yoga book projects. Thank goodness, because we desperately need something to balance out the celebrity-driven, irresponsible fluff that brings a McYoga approach to the practice.

Here’s a peek inside the contents of the book:

  • Introduction: Yoga and North American Culture – Carol Horton
  • Enlightenment 2.0: The American Yoga Experiment – Julian Walker
  • How Yoga Makes You Pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me – Melanie Klein
  • Questioning the “Body Beautiful”: Yoga, Commercialism, and Discernment – Poep Sa Frank Jude Boccio
  • Bifurcated Spiritualities: Examining Mind/Body Splits in the North American Yoga and Zen Communities – Nathan Thompson
  • Starved for Connection: Healing Anorexia Through Yoga – Chelsea Roff
  • Yoga and the 12 Steps: Holistic Recovery from Addiction – Tommy Rosen
  • Modern Yoga Will Not Form a Real Culture Until Every Studio Can Also Double as a Soup Kitchen and other observations from the threshold between yoga and activism – Matthew Remski
  • Yoga for War: The Politics of the Divine – Be Scofield
  • Our True Nature is Our Imagination: Yoga and Non-Violence at the Edge of the World – Michael Stone
  • How Yoga Messed With My Mind – Angela Jamison
  • Afterword: The Evolution of Yoga and the Practice of Writing – Roseanne Harvey

About the editors:

Carol Horton, Ph.D., is the author of Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind with the Wisdom of the Body (Kleio, 2012); and Race and the Making of American Liberalism (Oxford University Press, 2005).

Roseanne Harvey is the former editor of the leading Canadian yoga magazine, Ascent; founder of the popular blog, It’s All Yoga, Baby; and co-director of Yoga Festival Montreal.

Interested yet, and didn’t contribute to the Indiegogo campaign? Snag your copy for $15.

© 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.

Evening yoga practice vs. morning yoga practice

Featured

I’ve been doing pretty well, relatively speaking, in my effort to wake up earlier each morning to get in a fuller Ashtanga yoga practice — working through full primary most days, plus playing with pasasana. Last night I meditated for a few minutes before bed, and my head was comfortably on the pillow by 11 p.m., which is only half an hour later than my new bedtime goal (that’s better than usual). Tomorrow will be great! I thought.

Um. I never hit the snooze button this morning, but I didn’t wake up either. I ended up getting out of bed with only enough time to get ready for work. Oops.

It’s been months since I’ve done my home practice in the evening, and I had two main observations about my practice at dusk:

  • I had forgotten how delicious it feels to practice later in the day, when your body isn’t as cold and stiff.
  • On the mental front, I was using my practice reactively rather than proactively.

The first one is pretty straightforward. As for the second . . . work was draining today, and I realized I was using the practice to try to erase all the little irritants that had accumulated in my body — drip, drip, drip straight into my upper back — and in my mind. This is how I practiced for years: shedding my day on the mat. It’s a beautiful use of a yoga asana practice, and how wonderful that we have that option.

The proactive versus the reactive was interesting to reflect on. If my koshas were like hardwood floors, practicing in the morning feels like adding a nice, smooth protective coat. (I’m standing at our kitchen island while I type this, noticing how beautiful the shiny hardwood floors look.) In the evening, it would be more akin to scrubbing away that day’s dirt and grime on a surface that’s only lightly treated.

I better stop here and start getting ready for bed. Tomorrow’s another long day, and I need any added treatment I can get.

Treated hardwood floors

© 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.

Lost yoga ring found! (Insert your own symbolism.)

Yoga ring with "Do your practice and all is coming" etched on it.

In 2009, I ordered a custom spinning ring from a beautiful Etsy shop — it’s the ring you see in the blog’s current header. Inside the ring I had asked the designer to etch Pattabhi Jois’ famous saying: “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and as I recently wrote, I decided against ordering a replacement because I saw the loss as a way to remain detached to the physical object while internalizing the spirit of the ring’s meaning to me.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Photo taken in 2010 by Michelle Haymoz.

Today, I had to clear out my super messy car because I’m taking a caravan of hip young Lansing-based coworkers for a little drive to Ann Arbor for their first Intro to Ashtanga Yoga class with my teacher. In cleaning out the car, I found my ring! Not in some crazy crevice, but buried deep in the crap shoved into my glove compartment.

All this time, I had had no clue that the ring was actually quite close, just an arm’s reach away.

So, feel free to spin your own symbolism into this story. I have.

>>Related?: A girl and a guru

© 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.

Mysore Magic: A DVD for Ashtanga practitioners with desires and doubts

Mysore Magic screenshot

Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source — Released 2012. Directed By R. Alexander Medin. Produced by R. Alexander Medin, James Kambeitz, Angie Swiec Kambeitz.

Yesterday was a treat — my personal Mysore Monday. Because I had the Labor Day holiday off, I was able to attend morning Mysore at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY: A2), which I can’t attend on a normal workday because I live an hour away. I closed out the day by watching Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source.

The film directed by certified teacher R. Alexander Medin, released early this year, clocks in at just 22 minutes and includes striking Mysore Magic:Yoga the Source filmfootage — taken inside the practice room of the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Gokulam, Mysore — that’s woven into interviews with a range of compelling and articulate practitioners talking about why they were originally drawn to Mysore, and what the practice has done for them.

But the copy of the film I ordered a couple months ago indicates on the cover that this DVD is a new version, in that it includes six special features. The short film is quite well done — and, yes, it makes you want to book a ticket to India, stat — but for me, the gem of this 63-minute DVD can be found in the bonus features, which include segments on the following topics:

  • Guruji
  • Portraits
  • Family
  • History
  • Obstacles
  • Transformation

I was particularly drawn to the “Obstacles” section, in which you hear these oh-so-familiar thoughts spoken by different yogis:

  • “You are confronting your own shortcomings daily . . . “
  • “Some days are incredibly difficult to get up and go practice . . .”
  • “Whatever it is, it is guaranteed to come up in the practice  . . . “
  • “The moment you start your practice, it’s almost like a train — it’s a speeding train towards your obstacles.”

Sound familiar? I was wondering if perhaps they had actors reading from a script of thoughts that run through my head way too frequently. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about obstacles — and how to overcome them when you practice alone, at home, and don’t have the benefit of the energy of a Mysore room, much less the opportunity to travel to the source — thanks to the daily support I’ve been getting as part of a group of yogis, most of whom I’ve never met, who are part of the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. We meet in a little digital lounge where we can talk about our obstacles to practicing, help each other work through them, and generally cheer each other on.

Kino MacGregor’s struggles

In “Obstalces,” Kino MacGregor talks about her struggles in the practice. Yes, that Kino — the ubiquitous one who is all over social media, making everything look easy. The one who looks like she was born with a body made for this practice. The one who wears those trademark short shorts that make practicing things like arm balances even harder, because you don’t have fabric to use as friction.

Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor screenshot via KinoYoga.com

I’ll note one of MacGregor’s quote because I think she’s probably the most well-known of the yogis in this section, between her videos, blog posts, tweets, Pinterest boards, and all the rest. Sitting comfortably in a Led Zeppelin tee, she tells the filmmakers:

What does strength mean? Where does it come from?
For me, that’s been a really big journey, actually, because I wasn’t strong when I practiced — not mentally, not spiritually, not physically, not emotionally. So when I found this blockage in my practice — like, I couldn’t lift my butt off the ground — not at all in the beginning — I just remembered thinking, ‘What’s this about for me?’ And what does this say as a state of mind that I want to quit all the time? What does this say as a state of mind? Who is this person that can’t find any strength, that can’t, you know, accept this part of myself?

Fourth Estate

My first career was as a newspaper reporter, and I remember, early on, thinking that I was not fit for this field. I looked around at all these reporters who were tearing it up with A1 stories, investigative packages, beautiful long-form features. They seemed to me like they were born to do this — that they must wake up feeling confident every morning, that they have some uncanny ability to stroll into the newsroom around 10 a.m. and get their sources to spill by noon. Words seemed to flow out of their typing fingers as fast as coffee was streaming out of the newsroom coffee pot. Then I started to get to know people better. I started to learn about their sleepless nights. About the sacrifices they had made over the years to get their sources to trust them. I learned how some reporters would even get their doctors to prescribe Ativan when they were facing their toughest deadlines. Being part of the Fourth Estate — when done with integrity to ethics and dedication to the idea that citizens require information and truth to make informed decisions — can be hard. It was important to me to know I was not alone in feeling this way.

You are not alone, ashtangi

Back to Ashtanga yoga. It’s hard! This is not news. For some of us, it can be helpful to hear from people we think never had to work hard to achieve something, because it can make the endeavor seem more accessible. Some of us need to hear that nope, actually, these guys struggled too — and continue to struggle — just like the rest of us.

To be sure, there is also a kind of inspiration from knowing that someone else like you is still keeping at it and trying their best, despite their doubts, anxieties, frustrations, fears and everything else. Sometimes we get so beholden to our challenges that we lose all perspective. I think this is one way in which connecting with one another — whether over social media or by watching a DVD like this one — can support practices.

Checking out the film

There are renting options and purchasing options with the film — follow this link. I don’t believe renting the film — streaming it online for $4.99 — offers you the bonus features. It looks to me as if the DVD option, for $24.99, is the best way to go — and you should know that 50 percent of revenues go to the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Charitable Trust.

Here’s a sampling of some discussions of the film when it originally came out.

If you watch it, I would love to hear what you think.

(Photo credit: Screenshot from Mysore Magic: Yoga at the Source)

© 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.

 

 

 

[Version 2.0] Updated Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid

Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid updated for fall 2012

 

Labor Day weekend 2011, I was wrapping up the back-end changeover that moved YogaRose.net from a WordPress.com blog to a WordPress.org blog. (I <3 WordPress in that slightly obsessed kind of way, and I still kind of get warm and fuzzy thinking about the transformation.) The change gave me a lot more flexibility in what I could do here — allowing me, for instance, to use the simple but powerful WP-Table Reloaded plugin (thanks again, Tobias!) to create the Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid. (More recently, having a .org allowed me to utilize a Google calendar plugin for the new Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged asthangis.)

I made a few updates to the social media grid the first few months after launch, but had to let go of keeping it fully updated due to the craziness of my life through — well, this summer. Thanks to the break I’ve had over Labor Day weekend 2012, I just finished a major update to the grid.

Bullet points for the grid’s changelog:

  • Guy Donahaye started up a new blog earlier this year called Mind Medicine, which I think is a pretty damn good thing for all of us. That resource is now included.
  • David Swenson’s website now features a blog section for news and updates. (And thanks to David’s team for posting this YogaRose.net video from the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence on the blog back in July.) I believe David also changed his Facebook profile to a Facebook page — that page is linked.
  • Tim Miller also went from having a Facebook profile to a Facebook page. I guess that’s what happens when you have more than 5,100 friends (which was roughly the number the last time I checked, which was last year).
  • More opinion (mine, of course) sprinkled throughout the grid (e.g., a tidbit on the Eddie Stern buzz at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, and how sweetly quirky Stern’s blog is).
  • I originally included info on Cathy Louise Broda because I wanted representation in the grid for something — anything! — related to Ashtanga and pregnancy, which seems to present a big question to many practitioners. But Cathy’s Baby Blog was last updated in April, and I haven’t found other platforms she posts to in a way that speaks to community-building (if I am wrong, tell me). Her blog remains on the YogaRose.net links section and was included in my recent post on resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy.
  • New rows for three shalas that I have been turning to in recent months for sharing high–quality content: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (where I practice), Albuquerque Ashtanga Yoga Shala and the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto. If you were to think of my Chrome browser as my shopping cart for yoga-related media I consume, I’ve felt that the links and such from these three sources have been enriching — pretty low fat content on the posts, tweets and such that they’re distributing. This is stuff I would feel going about applying a read-share-repeat mode to.
  • New introduction on the page.

Sadly, my Labor Day weekend is coming to an end, and so must this post. Enjoy connecting via the grid, v. 2.0. And thank you for connecting here with me, by reading and commenting over this past intense and fascinating year.

P.S. — If you’re ever bored and want to see what types of Ashtanga-related tweets people are sending, you can manually set up a search on Twitter.com or a stream on Hootsuite. Or you can go to a silly little page I put up last year called Twitteranga. I’m sure you’ll find some lean-cut tweets, some with nothing but fat, and everything in between for your consumption.

Twitteranga on YogaRose.net

 

© 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.

An elevator pitch for a steady, consistent yoga practice? (Or, thank neuroplasticity for what happens when your brain is on yoga.)

Elevator via Zero-X's photostream

I spent four hours yesterday listening to a replay of Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction, a telesummit organized by Yoga U, a platform for high-profile yoga teachers to host webinars. Not multitasking is not my strong suit, so while I posted a bit about it on the YogaRose.net Facebook page, I mainly used this span of time to listen to the interviews with eight speakers while cleaning out my home office space — the last room of our new house to receive a cleaning-out-the-closets treatment.

The cleaning-out was great. So was the telesummit — particularly the first two speakers. Roger Cole rocked out a refutation of the infamous New York Times article by William Broad that triggered the telesummit (I think paying for the full pass for the event would probably be worth it for this segment alone), and Timothy McCall, M.D., the medical editor for Yoga Journal, provided some juicy elevator pitches for the benefits of yoga.

I say “elevator pitch” probably because I enjoy teaching beginning yoga students and find myself thinking about how to quickly explain the benefits of yoga, and because I work in the public relations arena, in which you frequently need to assess whether your clients have a clear sense of their goals and objectives. What message are they trying to get across? Can they distill it into a pitch short enough to make during an elevator ride? If they can’t, maybe the overarching message is too muddled.

Anyway, based on his presentation, I looked up some of McCall’s past work and found a little gem. Unless you’re in an elevator ride gone awry, McCall’s 2009 piece titled “Your Brain on Yoga” is a tad too long to qualify as an elevator pitch, but at a brisk 332 words, it’s still a short, breezy and extremely accessible read. I’m sure there are excellent distillations out there, but this is one of the best I’ve stumbled over that supports, from a scientific and holistic point of view, why we should practice yoga consistently:

When I was in medical school in the 1980s, we were taught that after a certain stage of childhood development, the architecture of the brain was fixed. Brain cells, or neurons, couldn’t be replaced; at best, we could slow the rate of their loss by cutting down on alcohol and other damaging habits.

But now, due to the growing sophistication of neuroimaging technology like PET scanners and functional MRIs, we understand that brain structure can change over time based on what we do. Recent research shows that even aging brains can add new neurons.

Scientists coined the term neuroplasticity to refer to the brain’s ability to reshape itself, confirming what the yogis have been teaching for millennia—the more you think, say, or do something, the more likely you are to think, say, or do it again. With every activity, neurons forge connections with one another, and the more a behavior is repeated, the stronger those neural links become. As neuroscientists like to say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali offers a recipe for success in yoga: steady and enthusiastic practice without interruption over a long period of time. This ideal formula takes advantage of neuroplasticity to rewire the brain. Swami Vivekananda once said, “The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits.” As your yoga practice deepens over time, it becomes a strong new habit that can compete with old patterns.

In yoga, you are systematically awakening your ability to feel what’s happening in your body, heart, and mind. As your awareness becomes more refined, it can guide you in all areas of your life. You begin to observe which foods make you feel best, which work you find most fulfilling, which people bring you joy—and which ones have the opposite effects.

The key is steady practice—whether it’s asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, visualization, service, or all of the above. Just a little bit every day is enough to steer you step-by-step toward true transformation.

 

Establishing new habits to compete with old ones . . . in the telesummit, McCall talked about how that is a weakness of the medical system — when people are told to quit smoking or eat healthier or whatever the case may be, but aren’t given any tools to create new habits. I know nothing except for yoga has ever truly worked for me when it comes to trying to be a less reactive person, to eat better, etc. etc. — so where would I be right now if I didn’t have these tools?

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about how redirecting my practice pattern — practicing at least a little bit six mornings a week versus only a few evenings a week — has totally !!! my world. (By the way, I do promise to blog about something else soon! :-) ) I wondered if I could distill the neuroplasticity idea even further — into the 140 characters of a tweet — and ashtanga-fy it a bit (not because other methods don’t work, but because this is the only method I can personally attest to) while alluding to the concepts of a conditioned mind and illusions that arise from the Yoga Sutras. I came up with:

Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.

What do you think?

What would your elevator pitch be?

Pain relief?

So what is it that happens when we are capable of practicing detachment?

Bringing this up reminds me of workshop I attended last year with orthopedic surgeon, yoga practitioner and author Ray Long, M.D. I loved how he brought up painkillers in an analogy for how yoga helps decrease human suffering. I am paraphrasing big time here, but basically, he discussed how local anesthesia works to numb an area, while morphine works on the central nervous system. What people have recounted about being on morphine is that they are still aware of the pain, but it doesn’t bother them.

I’ve heard Tim Miller use a line he got from a Vedic astrologer in India: Yoga makes us human shock absorbers. And I just found this interview with David Swenson in which he responds to a question about finding peace (definitely not an elevator pitch, but good stuff):

I think that peace just means, that even though I may die today, I’m living my purpose. And that’s the peace. It doesn’t mean that there’s no stress in life. It doesn’t mean that we just float along and there’s never any problem. Peace just means that we feel like we’re living the life that we should be living. And many times we have to live a lot of lives that we realise we shouldn’t be, in order to find out what we should be doing. It’s an ongoing journey. To find balance, sometimes we have to understand imbalance by moving through extremes. In my life there have been different extremes… to swing like a pendulum. And the balance or the peace comes from the middle road. As humans we find it easier to live in extremes, “I’ll only do this. I’ll never do that.” That’s where religion plays a part, where you’re just told to do this and that and you follow. But peace comes from some sort of inner feeling that the life we’re living is a life that we should be living. And it doesn’t have to be that you’re in a monastery, or that you’re doing some grandiose thing. It could be aligned with raising your children, getting them to soccer games on time, being at peace with the life that we have chosen, or the life that has chosen us, but finding our place within that. Certainly I can’t say that every moment at the day I’m walking around in some bliss bubble. Certainly I have problems, I have stresses, or I get upset. But underneath all that, as a yogi, we learn to observe our emotions, these ups and downs, and we try not to become too attached to one of them. Great joy or great sadness, both of those are going to change. Instead of this rollercoaster ride, we can become the observer, but it doesn’t mean that we’re some emotionless robot.

Shanti.

(Photo credit: Elevator photo via Zero-X’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.

 

Cleaning out closets — physical and mental (in which opinions and judgments count as ‘stuff’)

 

Graph of cost of too much stuff

Graphic credit: Carl Richards via The New York Times

The New York Times yesterday posted a piece titled “You Probably Have Too Much Stuff” by a certified financial planner. (I probably wouldn’t have seen it, except Bristo Yoga School posted it on their Facebook page, and that showed up in my newsfeed.) Readers of this blog know I’ve been working on unpacking my patterns of excess during my recent move, so I was interested in reading this column. What impressed me most, other than the very clean and striking graphic that I’ve posted above, was that this financial planner acknowledged the emotional price you pay for having too much stuff:

When we hold on to stuff we no longer want or use, it does indeed cost us something more, if only in the time spent organizing and contemplating them. I can’t tell you how many times I have thought about getting rid of that tie (for instance), and every time I went to choose a shirt for the day, I would think about the few that no longer fit.

. . . .

It can help to think in terms of, “Do I have room—physical, emotional, mental—to bring one more thing into my life?”

It has taken me a long time to realize that my opinions and judgments — of myself and others — count as “stuff” that needs to be constantly cleared out. (Better yet, not brought in in the first place.) What makes this kind of excess worse than the piles of unnecessary whatevers that may be laying around the house is that it travels with you — it’s not something you can avoid when you’re not at home. I think most of us know people so chained by anger, resentment and grudges — so addicted to personal drama — that they can’t even see how much friendship, good will and respect from others they have lost. These packets of anger, resentment and grudges that get stockpiled can color every conversation you have and affect every relationship you enter. It can cause you to push people away and it can keep people from wanting to be closer to you. It saps a tremendous amount of energy and it’s toxic. Is there a higher personal cost than that?

Two sides of the same coin

In many cases, anger and the like are byproducts of too intensely liking someone and being disappointed, right? In The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, T.K.V. Desikachar offers up a simple little drawing of a tree (p. 11) that I always think of when there’s yogic talk of ignorance. The caption underneath the tree reads, “Avidya is the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from recognizing things as they really are. The obstacles [branches of the tree] are asmita (ego), raga (attachment), dvesa (refusal), abhinivesia (fear).”

At a recent Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat, Angela Jamison talked about Yoga Sutra 1.33, which I’m referring to here using this translation:

Maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam. In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.

I don’t remember the retreat dwelling on it, but I scribbled in my notebook that the last of the four discussed was equanimity, which Angela noted included “not getting attached to preferences in people.”

That’s such an interesting one — and I realized that I was recently confronted with this. During the months of my wedding planning and after the wedding itself was held in May, I had been quietly holding on to hurt feelings. I had a few friends who meant a lot to me and who, as a result, I expected to somehow demonstrate their reciprocity by, at best, being excited by the wedding and, at worse, at least acknowledging the event. But as with any wedding, there were people who didn’t so much as reach out with a post-wedding “hey, congrats” or a “sorry I blew off your invite, I was x, y or z” or whatever. Their silence was deafening to me. The fault was entirely my own, though: I should have not have expected anything, because expectations create baggage. And did it matter what the reasons were? Everyone who was invited to the wedding was someone whom my husband and I felt had given us a gift of friendship at some point; that was enough.

As a post-script, I have to say that I somehow shed a lot of these feelings — along with other holds I’ve been carrying for a long time — during my honeymoon in Maui. Part of it was the magic of that island, and much of it had to do with the fact that my wedding showed me just how much I had to be grateful for — I have so many good people in my life, and can you ask for much more than that? I felt so light as my wedding weekend came to a close, and that feeling has stayed with me.

The geometry of closets

Like much of the population, I tend to stash stuff I don’t need into closets. This forces me to cram stuff I don’t need or even really like into spaces that contain stuff I do need and do like. The end result? The stuff I don’t need pushes the good stuff out of view and everything ends up crumpled. In my emotional closet I’ve started taking inventory of tchotchkes built on resentments, articles fabricated of anger, and boxes storing grudges, and I’ve been pitching as many of them as I can. (I’m also trying to catch myself before I drag in new junk.) It’s less that I have reached that level of zen, and more a reflection of how much I value all the good people and things in my life — I don’t want those dynamics wrinkled by emotional detritus I should have tossed years ago.

Don’t get me wrong — I am human, and I still have way more baggage than I need. But the spring cleaning has begun, and I suspect it will be, as is everything worth taking on, a constant and lifelong process.

Cleaning out

(Graphic credits: Top: Carl Richards via The New York Times. Bottom: The Red Chair Blog.)

© 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.

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

Breathe Deep and Speak Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

Speed limit of 8 via Gary Dincher's Flickr photostream

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

How long and fast should the breath be?

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

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

Watch the whole segment here:

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

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

What is the Ashtanga breath called?

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

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

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

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

The ujjayi breath – how loud should it be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

Abacus via Generation X-Ray's Flickr

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

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

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

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

2 a.m. – 3 hours = Not enough

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

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

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

104 weeks x 6 days a week = ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ekam FTW!

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A yoga room of one’s own

 

Yoga room

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

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

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

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

Yoga room window

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

Ganesha part of yoga room

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

Nandi bell

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

Raku bowl

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

Nataraja

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

Practice cards

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

Thai plaque

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

About this blog’s new header

New blog header July 31, 2012

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

Ganesha centerpiece

Inspiration

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

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

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Teachings and teachers

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

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

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

Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.

Community

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

The Stone Arch event space

The Stone Arch event space in Saline, Mich.

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Shut up and play the quiet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has yoga changed you as a person?

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

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

(Photo credit: Hierophant’s Facebook page)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

David Robson releases instructional video on jumping back and through

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

(Mental) space renovations

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

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

Do I need this? 

Really, do I really need this?

Seriously, what does keeping this around do for me? 

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

Do I need this? 

Really, do I really need this?

Seriously, what does keeping this around do for me? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Unpacking my patterns of excess

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Packing up -- so many boxes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Map credit: GoHawaii.about.com)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Not a bad way to practice floating to bakasana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is what Stiles says in an interview on Blistree:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll elaborate on three of these.

Nauli

Here is what Lisa Walford has written about nauli:

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

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

Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch

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

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

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

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

Why ginger and cayenne? According to this same site:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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.

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.

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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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.

==========

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.

==========

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what do we do to keep ourselves in check?

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

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

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

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.

 

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.

Careening, or not

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

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

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

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

Safe travels.

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

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

Gelato and a carousel ride in the Piazza della Repubblica

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

Atop the Duomo cupola at night

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

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

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

Ponte Vecchio and other points along Fiume Arno under the moonlight

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

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

To be determined

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

Who’s the most romantic of them all?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m ready now.

–>Read the other installments of this travel journal 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Head for the hills

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

My most unyogic moment

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

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

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

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

>>In this series:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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

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

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

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

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

Interesting responses include:

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

Other things that Wreck Your Body:

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

Food Wrecks Your Body

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Sanskrit means refined, and many of the yogis of India were extremely elegant, in a simplicity-filled way. The rishis, who became the world’s first yogis, purposely left society to meditate in the forests, turning their backs on the mundanity and suffering of the world. They discovered something that ultimately can be of great benefit to us all, if we use it wisely.  This is quite the opposite of the rawness of music that I grew up with, like the Clash or Sex Pistols – but, still, listening to White Man (in Hammersmith Palais) still fills me with the same feeling of freedom I felt when I first heard it when I was probably about 14.  And who can argue with this lyric: “The new groups/ are not concerned/ with what there is to be learned/ they put on suits/ they think it’s funny/ turning rebellion into money”. I always loved that line, and now it just makes me think of Lululemon.

I’d write more, but my throat is on fire (rough return from my travels abroad), and I need to try to go back to bed. Just as well — you’re better off anyway leaving this blog and heading over to read the rest of what Eddie Stern has to say and see which YouTube video he ended his post with.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

 

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 1: Firenze, Italia as home base

–>Trip snapshot

–>Five sketches from Florence and Tuscany:

–>A word about the travel journal
–>Future posts in this series

>>TRIP SNAPSHOT<<

Some visitors to Italy fall in love with Venice. Others fulfill their dreams by making a pilgrimage to Rome. For me and my finance, Scott, the trip of a lifetime took us to Firenze, Italia, our home base for a seven-night visit that included New Year’s Eve. We walked and ate our way around Florence and left the city limits for a day to peek into some of the hill towns of Tuscany. Thanks to frecce alta velocita, Italy’s low-carbon-footprint and fantastically fast train line, we also got day-trip glimpses of cities to the north and south that capture so many imaginations.

Italy is a country we have independently longed to visit, and what better time than half a year before our wedding, after which time it’ll be…well, time to settle down. This was our chance to make sure we would never have to say, “If only we had…” It was our honeymoon before the honeymoon — a chance to revel in the kinds of culinary beauty and artistic genius that only Italy can offer, and an opportunity to take some of that inspiration back with us to deepen the hues through which we view the world.

Scott and I unloaded our suitcases not too long ago — we’re back home later than scheduled, thanks to a delayed departure in Florence, a near missed connection in Amsterdam and unfavorable headwinds back across the Atlantic. But of course we’re already asking ourselves if we’ll ever return. We hope so. To help our odds, before we left Florence, we paid homage to a popular bronze statue of a wild boar and did as many visitors do — slipped a coin into the mouth of the cinghiale, rubbed its snout and made a wish to return to the city that historically was the cradle of Renaissance arts and personally has become a cradle of new shared memories.

I’m starting this travel series with five sketches from our week there. Check back for future blog posts that will include:

>>Five sketches about Florence and Tuscany<<

463 STEPS
Not for the weak of heart (physically or romantically): What a cathedral whose dome became the model for Renaissance domes can teach us about confidence and faith

On our very last evening in Florence, we capped off our trip by climbing the 463 steps up to the cupola of Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), Florence’s stunning Gothic cathedral. What makes this cathedral remarkable is not just that the dome, which took 14 years to build, was the first Renaissance dome, or that it was the largest since Rome’s Pantheon. What’s incredible to me is the story that’s told about the cathedral — that it was originally constructed with a gaping hole where the dome would go, because no one quite knew how to create a dome that could span that space. Can you imagine the immovable belief that things will all work out? And indeed, things did work out, because architect Filippo Brunelleschi came up with an ingenious double shell construction in which the skeleton of a dome was filled in by interlocking bricks fashioned together in a herringbone pattern. This created a dome that relied on its own support as it grew slowly upwards.

Not surprisingly, the 463-step trek up is winding, steep and claustrophobic (there are several passes so narrow you get pretty intimate with tourists making the return journey), and there’s really not much of a warning about any of that when you slide over 8 euros (about $11) for the entrance ticket. I would have expected an impossible-to-miss notice for anyone who is pregnant or has a heart condition, but perhaps that is the overly cautious American in me.

Neither the guidebooks nor Duomo officials adequately prepare you for the trip up — or for the view at the pinnacle. We arrived around 6 p.m. on a perfectly clear evening and marveled at the Campanile, the 270-foot bell tower designed by Giotto. Walking around, we could see the Accademia, where David — created by Michelangelo Buonarroti when he was just 26 — is showcased. Here were all the avenues lined with holiday lights and over there was the Uffrizi Gallery, where you can find Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We could easily see Santa Croce Church, famous for housing the tombs of Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo. We slipped one euro into the binocular stand and looked with disbelief into the windows of the rooftop restaurant where we had enjoyed our divine New Year’s Eve dinner a couple nights before.

After the initial shock of this perfect view, it seemed most couples realized the romance of the winds and the perch, and shared quick kisses or longer expressions of their gratitude for each other.

>>IF YOU GO. We started the climb about an hour before the last entry, and we’re pretty sure we got lucky with the best possible conditions anyone could have walking up. Florence’s high season is April though October, although July and August can be unbearably hot. It must be a snail’s pace up to the top when the crowds are in town, and I’m sure temperatures rise accordingly in those narrow corridors. After this trip, Scott and I are sure we prefer traveling during a destination’s off season, even if it means cooler temperatures and higher chances of some closures. No matter what the season, if you go, take into consideration whether you want a daytime or nighttime cityscape, and get in line very early in the day or late in the evening. Make sure you’re hydrated going up (that’s the yoga teacher in me), but not so much so that you’ll need to use the bathroom any time soon.

>>LESSONS FROM THE CLIMB. Rick Steves describes the Duomo climb in his guidebook as “463 plunges on a Renaissance StairMaster,” but the journey reminded me less of exercise and more of a journey of faith that all these stairs were leading somewhere worthwhile. You’re placing your feet on each stony step, unable to see ahead and cognizant of the futility in looking back. I had this same type of feeling many times during Hilltop Yoga’s tough 300-hour yoga teacher training program, when I was wondering whether I should stop the emotional and physical gauntlet — a good yoga teacher training program provokes some heavy and often unwanted self-reflection — and turn around. But after the formal program ended and I taught my first Ashtanga class — after I saw the practice of yoga from that vantage point — I knew it had been the right journey.

If you’re ever in Florence, take the climb up, and see what the journey evokes for you.

WHO NEEDS A CAPPUCCINO
Try the cioccolata calda instead

Americans do not know how to appreciate hot chocolate. Italians do. People always talk about Italy and the espresso and cappuccino available there. But what about the hot chocolate? The first time I ordered a cioccolata calda I looked around to see if anyone else was drinking the same thing, and whether they were pouring milk or something in the cup to cut it. I couldn’t accept the fact that the beautifully thick, smooth molten chocolate inside this cup was mine to enjoy as is. What do Italians do when they visit the United States and have their first cup of hot chocolate? Crying seems like an appropriate response. I might not mind winter in Michigan so much if we had this kind of creamy expression of warmth. (OK, I’d probably still mind just as much, but it would at least be a little something to look forward to on the coldest days.)

>>IF YOU GO. Try cioccolata calda in Siena at the Caffe A. Nannini. And by the way, about cappuccinos — for Italians, it’s a breakfast drink. Restaurants will serve it all day if that’s what tourists want, but if you want to do as the locals do, only order this frothy goodness in the morning.

>>LESSONS FROM THE SIPS. Too often, I try to split the difference. In my brief visit, I found that Italian culture fosters making a commitment — whether it’s heavy hot chocolate or a three-hour dinner — and that, in turn, can allow you to live more fully in the moment.  

WILD FOR WILD BOAR
Giving something a (second, third, fourth…) chance

Cinghiale (cheeng-GAH-lay), wild boar, is a noted Tuscan specialty. I’ve never loved the other white meat (though as you know, I’m having issues with the main white meat these days), but when I paid a visit to Memphis a couple of years ago and had ribs down there, I understood, for the first time, the appeal of ribs. Following in the same spirit, I gained a new appreciation in Florence for prosciutto (cured ham), salami and cinghiale. When done right, these meats have a refined and comforting flavor. My single favorite dish from the entire trip (more on that in the next blog post) was pappardelle di cinghiale, wild boar with Tuscany’s extremely wide, flat ribbons of pasta.

>>IF YOU GO. Unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian, don’t be afraid to try cingahle in a few of the various forms available — in pasta, as salami, as a main dish or in a stew. If you hate it, at least you’ll know you gave it all the chances it deserved.

>>LESSONS FROM THE BITES OF BOAR. Location, location, location. I’ve learned that about so many things now — that you risk missing out on something pretty cool if you are too quick to write something off when you haven’t tried it in the right context.

THE TOWN OF SIENA IS DELIGHTFUL 
Who wants prenup?

Drive 35 miles south of Florence and you’ll hit Siena, Florence’s historic archrival and interestingly the first European city to ban automobile traffic from its main square. Siena is, in a word, delightful. An intense horse race called Palio di Siena is held twice every year on the grounds of Il Campo, the town center.

Our local tour guide explained that the city is comprised of 17 neighborhoods, or contradas. It sounds as intensely tribal as a city can get. Each contrada has its own church and fountain (and sometimes museum too), along with its own flag, a mascot (our tour guide made sure we knew she was from the rhinoceros group) and a rival neighborhood. Each neighborhood has a horse that, if chosen by lottery (the town center can only accommodate 10 horses out of the 17), runs the Palio di Siena. It’s a bareback race, and the first horse to cross the finish line — with or without a jockey still hanging on — wins.

Laughing, our tour guide also explained that two people from different neighborhoods who get married will sometimes determine their children’s allegiances in a prenuptial agreement. That sounds to me like a Michigan State University fan and a University of Michigan fan signing a prenup determining if the kids will wear blue or green. Incredible.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t breeze through town like a tourist, reading the guidebook and looking at buildings and architecture. You have to talk to local residents to realize why this town sparkles. I know that’s true of pretty much any place worth traveling to, but it’s so true here.

>>LESSONS FROM THE TOWN. That I need to go back to spend more time there.

 CARING ABOUT CARBON FOOTPRINTS
That’s the ticket

Floating around one of our guidebooks as a bookmark is my Venice fast train ticket. Right on the ticket there’s a number — 26 Kg — that’s confusing if you’re not used to taking these trains. It turns out this number indicates the estimated amount of CO2 saved by taking this particular trip you’ve just paid 43 euros for. The trip we took to Rome — also at 43 euros each way for second class — saved 32 Kg of CO2 each way. What a sensible idea — telling people in concrete terms how the decisions they are making right now are making a difference right now.

I also learned on this trip that Smart cars — which as you can image are ubiquitous in this part of the world — can also park perpendicular to the curb, as seen here:

People say Italian drivers are crazy. After this trip, I see why and while I agree, I’d add that they are crazy skilled. It’s beyond me how people can drive even small cars through some of these narrow streets, navigate confusing city-center traffic-free zones, snake their way into a too-small parking spot, not kill anyone along the way, and keep their cool the whole time.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t rent a car. Period. Let professionals (taxi drivers, bus drivers and train conductors) get you from point A to point B.

>>LESSONS FROM THE RIDES. Every single trip I’ve made to Europe (I’m up to four now) has underscored how much farther the U.S. could be when it comes to public transportation. The technology is there — we just have to care enough to put the policies into place that would make it happen.

>>A word about the travel journal<<

I’ve long wanted to follow up my various trips with blog posts that offer something of a yoga-themed travel journal, but it simply hasn’t happened, mostly due to time constraints, I suppose. On this trip, I spent seven hours on fast trains getting to and from Venice and Rome, and nearly 20 hours on planes to and from Florence — so I had time to start in on some blog posts before returning home. I hope that with this post, I’ll start to make it a point to do similar types of guides when I travel — some heavier on yoga and others, like this one, much less so.

If you’ve been to this region, please share your experiences and tips in the comments! I would love to hear about your trips, whether yoga-related or not.

Ciao, till the next post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Buon 2012

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Buon anno from Firenze, Italia. We arrived in Florence on Wednesday, and it’s hard to believe that last night, we rang in the new year in this vibrant city. We have two full days left and I intend to soak up as much as I can during that time. On the plane ride back across the Atlantic, I’ll start writing up a blog post about some of the tastes, sights and sounds from the trip. For one thing, I have to emote about pappardelle al cinghiale, bistecca fiorentina and porcini anything.

20120101-235142.jpg In the meantime, a short note to say that my first practice of the year was in my hotel room — a quiet practice punctured only by the bells of Santa Maria Novella, the church nearby. I’ve practiced yoga in a lot of surreal spaces — perhaps most notably in the inner sanctum of a Masonic lodge in Vancouver. No matter where I am, it’s fair to say I never feel far from a feeling of gratitude that I have access to this life-altering practice. The farther from home I am, the more I’m reminded of the portability and flexibility of the eight limbs of yoga.

How was your first practice of the year?

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Anatomy of a yogi’s suitcase

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you yoga-fy your suitcase for traveling?

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

Turning down the silence in a yoga room

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

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

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

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

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

In short, it’s not easy.

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

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

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

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

Read the entire post here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration by David Plunkert, via The New York Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fine print:

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

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

Brand spanking new, handmade herbal eye pillow by Jade Sims

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

Bent on Learning

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

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

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

Prison Yoga Project

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

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

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

Street Yoga

From their website:

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

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

Yoga Activist

I got this email from Yoga Activist today:

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

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

Yoga Bear 

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

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

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

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

Help my workplace give to a local charity

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The description of this video offers a more succinct answer:

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

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

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

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

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

Noose for the ego

Ganesh is the 'wielder of the noose'

 

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

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

What a beautiful way to put it.

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Kino MacGregor on the logic of practicing six days a week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

I’m kidding, of course. I think. 😉

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What’s that? A Groupon for Ashtanga Yoga?

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

I’ve been out of town for work, so this is being posted a day later than I would have liked. A friend yesterday sent me the latest Groupon Detroit deal. I’m glad she did, since I live about 90 minutes west of Detroit, so I’m not as in tune with the deals there. The Groupon is for Ashtanga Michigan, a traditional shala in the town of Royal Oak.

 

As of when I’m posting this, there is still one day and more than eight hours left to snag the deal:

  • For $25, you get 5 group yoga classes (a $75 value).
  • For $39, you get 10 group yoga classes (a $150 value).
  • For $59, you get 2 private yoga sessions with Matthew Darling (a $160 value).

At this point, yoga studios around the country seem to be very comfortable joining hair salons and massage therapists in going the Groupon route, but I think it’s still rare to see an Ashtanga-specific deal.

By the way, Ashtanga Michigan recently redesigned its website.

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

You say tomato, I say ‘tomahto,’ you say swan, I say…pigeon? Does it matter what the posture is called?

This past weekend, my sisters and I took a class taught by a teacher trained in the TriYoga tradition. It was a much-needed post-Thanksgiving flow. I’ve never taken a TriYoga class before, though, so it took some getting used to to hear adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) referred to instead as “mountain pose.” Or to be guided into what feels like pigeon pose and be told it’s swan. Uttanasana (standing forward fold) was cued as “Earth touch.”

I didn’t remember ever hearing about TriYoga before that class, so I hopped on my iPhone on the ride back from the yoga studio and learned that, according to TriYoga.com, TriYoga began this way:

On January 5, 1980, as Kali Ray led a group in meditation, she shared a concentration technique of energy rising up the spine. As soon as the meditation began, kriyavati siddhi awakened within her. At that moment, students witnessed her flow of asana, pranayama and mudra. This later was to become known as the birth of TriYoga. Moved by the powerful energy and beauty of these flows, students asked that she teach what they had witnessed. In this way, Kaliji began to teach TriYoga, which arose as did the ancient yoga, from the continuing flow of kriyavati. Kriyavati, as defined in Sanskrit texts, is kundalini manifesting on the plane of hatha yoga.

I also learned about TriYoga Prasara (TriYoga Flows):

TriYoga’s hatha yoga method, TriYoga Prasara or TriYoga Flows, integrates posture, breath and focus that is asana, pranayama and mudra. The inspiration and guidance for the TriYoga Flows comes from yogini Kaliji’s direct experience of kriyavati. This inner prana flow has given the knowledge to develop the systematic and complete TriYoga method. The evolution of TriYoga Flows continues to be guided by kriyavati.

If you are curious, you can watch videos of TriYoga Flows or see this discussion of a sequence.

Yoga Chicago covered Kali Ray’s visit to Chicago in 2010:

Kaliji brought three TriYoga teachers to help us, and we all received lots of personal attention. They began by demonstrating TriYoga’s graceful, tai-chi-like movements, which had them effortlessly flowing in and out of poses ranging from the easy to the most advanced. ‘There’s a feeling of relaxation in action,’ Kaliji explained. ‘Asana is being used as a tool of concentration. You are never losing awareness. Each movement is equally important.’

Read the full Yoga Chicago article it here.

One of the most interesting parts of the sequence for me involved doing a breathing method — kapalabhati pranayama — while in a standing pose (trikonasana). In power yoga classes, my teachers will sometimes have us do bhastrika pranayama in a seated lotus, but doing a fiery breath in a standing pose was a new experience for me.

There are definite differences in postures of the same name between the Ashtanga system and the poses I see in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and it always fascinates me why one school of yoga settles on a certain approach (parighasana in the style of Light on Yoga and parighasana in the Ashtanga style — gate pose — come to mind).

A posture’s name shouldn’t matter, right? What’s important is a posture’s design and how someone experiences it. I can’t help but wonder, however, if we sometimes initially make a different connection to a pose depending on the posture name. Is it easier to feeling more grounded when you have four points of connection to the mat if you know you’re in mountain pose versus downward-facing dog? Do you lose some of the suppleness of down dog if you call it mountain? What do you think?

I’ll let Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald take it from here:

(Illustration credit: By Michael Renner via Flickr Creative Commons license)  

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

 

 

 

End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice

It’s a bumpy plane ride back to Michigan–so bumpy they’ve had to discontinue the beverage service. I really wanted my ginger ale, but I guess I’ll have to be content with observing my sensation of thirst rather than observing the sensation of that thirst being satiated. It should be a little easier to do now that I’ve finished reading The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman, which dwells quite a bit on the process of, and benefits of, making room for clear observation rather than seeing everything through the prism of preconceived ideals.

On the way to California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, I blogged about Freeman’s story about the misguided man digging his wells. On the flight back, I want to touch on one paragraph in the book that speaks to how to free yourself from “the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is.”

What makes this topic particularly interesting to me right now is thinking about what the process of unhooking ideals from experiences might say about the possibility of doing the same for other aspects of our lives–from our body image to our careers to our most intimate relationships.

In “Cutting Through Fundamentalism,” the last chapter of the book, Freeman writes:

Practicing yoga is not always easy. Sometimes the biggest difficulty is arranging a time to do it: starting the session of practice. But if you can trick yourself into just beginning, it often works out. If you have arranged a time to practice but do not really feel like practicing, the trick is to convince yourself to simply stand up in a samasthitih, to take three breaths, thinking that you will allow yourself to go off and do something else after that simple ritual. Then after standing in samasthitih, it often turns out that the idea of taking a big inhale, raising your arms and doing half of a sun salutation is alluring. Having done that, one full sun salutation before quitting may seem reasonable. Soon you may find yourself doing two, and then three sun salutations; and then all of a sudden, you are in the groove and the practice continues. (p. 203)

First off, I think this is true of anything–hitting the gym, doing exercise videos at home, learning how to play an instrument, and on and on.

A few years ago, before I started a more regular yoga practice, I used to let my car decide if I went to class after work or not. By that I mean that I usually *wanted* to go to class after work, but often I didn’t *feel* like going to work. Usually, it was because I was so drained (it was a very taxing job) that even though I knew I would feel better after moving my body in coordination with my breath for 90 minutes, I also knew I would feel better if I simply went home and collapsed. But as time went on, my car pointed me in the direction of the yoga studio more and more consistently, to a point where it was routine to go to studio after work, even if I didn’t feel like it.

One reason the practice can be difficult is that the mind is a very strict taskmaster, and it often creates images of what practice is or it should be. The parameters your own mind sets for the practice may erode the foundation of the practice itself; if you cannot do a ‘good’ practice, why practice at all? (p. 203)

Once I started going to the power yoga studio two or three, then four or five times a week consistently, I knew the next phase of my practice journey would be to try to establish a home morning Ashtanga practice. A big hang-up there was that I hated how my body felt practicing in the morning–my muscles felt ice cold, for one. That first uttanasana (standing forward fold) was always awful. On the flip side, my mind wasn’t as cluttered as it would get in the evening after work, which meant I felt I had less mental chatter to try to quiet down–again, less motivation to practice in the morning. I sort of thought I should save practicing for when my body and my mind appreciated it more.

You may think to yourself that if you are going to sit in meditation, you must sit for forty-five minutes. If you are going to practice pranayama, you should practice it for one hour, and that if you are going to practice asana, two hours is the minimum. When, in fact, if you were to do any of these practices with true concentration even for two seconds, you would open up the core of the body and have remarkable insight and a sense of freedom–particularly a sense of release from the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is. Again, we run into the notion of drawing a circle (defining the parameters of our practice) and erasing that circle (having mercy on ourselves if we cannot meet the standards we set for ourselves). For beginning students, allowing some leeway in some of the parameters we set for ourselves about the structure and consistency of our practice can be the golden ticket to jump-start a routine of practice that, once it is going, automatically draws you back day after day, year after year. (p. 204)

As I’ve chronicled over the past few weeks, I finally, a few short months ago, started a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice (not a moment too soon either, considering I took my first Ashtanga class around 1999 or 2000 and have loved it since). I was doing it for the discipline more than anything else. I’m experienced enough now (read: old! :-) ) to know that a guaranteed way to fail would be to say that if I couldn’t practice for at least 90 minutes, I wouldn’t start to practice. On most days, that means I practice for an hour. Once or twice a week, I get nearly two hours. Maybe once a week, I might get as little as 50 minutes. But as I’ve said in recent blog posts, I don’t beat myself up for it.

This has meant that since August, I have slowly but surely started to untether the act of practicing from the feeling of practicing. I no longer turn off my alarm after hitting snooze a couple of times and tell myself that despite my best intentions, I won’t be getting up to practice because how good could that practice feel if I’m this tired, if it’s this cold, and if I have such little time. I no longer step on my mat at 6:30 a.m. thinking, “Well, this won’t feel very good physically, which means it won’t feel as beneficial mentally or emotionally.” I just get on my mat and start.

It is what it is–and for that, I have started to realize that if there is any tethering, it should be to connect the act of practicing with the feeling of contentment and gratitude, no matter what kinds of sensations arise in the muscles, joints and everything else.

Getting back to what prompted Freeman to dive into this point, it’s an interesting exercise to think about what other games we have constructed in our mind of what ____ (fill in the blank: acceptable physique, ideal spouse, etc.) is–and how our practice might be able to free us from it.

(Photo credit: Tether ball by gzap via Flickr Creative Commons

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

 

A different kind of black Friday: How yoga therapy can be used to help treat depression

20111125-035907.jpg

Enjoying the post-Thanksgiving food high, I’m with my family in San Jose. And I see that the Mercury News ran a story the other day saying that here in Santa Clara county, someone commits suicide on average every three days. Think about that — every 72 hours.

Black Friday officially kicks off the winter holiday season — a time of year designed to be full of family, friends and celebration. For those who live with clinical depression, though, it can be one of the toughest times to go through.

In high school, I worked on a teen hotline where, in theory, anyone contemplating suicide could call (gratefully, I was never on the other end of one of those calls). Depression has profoundly affected the life course of people I care deeply about. If there’s one societal change I have long wanted to contributed to, it is that, in my own way, one conversation at a time, I want people to understand that depression is not simply being sad. Or feeling really, really down. It is chemical. Deeply physiological. You don’t just buck up to get yourself out of depression. You don’t just will yourself out. Would you tell someone living with a heart condition to just get over it? True clinical depression should be considered with the same social regard as other serious threats to health.

Which brings me to yoga, and what yoga can do. The new issue of Yoga International has a wonderful piece by Gary Kraftsow:

Depression tends to hit us on every level of our being, often all at once, which makes yoga the perfect antidote for the physical ramifications, mood swings, thoughts, and behaviors that it engenders. From a physiological perspective, depression affects the entire body, including the digestive, respiratory, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. Yoga therapy’s main impact on our physiology is via the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the ANS. Depression creates a state of sympathetic/parasympathetic disregulation, which further impacts how we feel, what we think about, and how we behave.

The sympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the fight-flight-or-freeze response and is activated when we perceive danger. The parasympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the rest-and-digest or rest-and-repose response and is activated when we are at rest.

Although some types of depression include sympathetic activation (feelings of agitation or anxiety), when people become depressed, they most often experience a state of sympathetic suppression. They may have physiological symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, and/or decreased libido or sense of pleasure.

Practicing asanas with adapted breathing, pranayama techniques, and guided relaxation will help to balance the nervous system. For example, doing standing postures and backbends with an emphasis on movement—during which you progressively lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation and gently hold the breath at the end of the inhalation—will activate the sympathetic response and energize the system.

Even if you don’t know anyone right now with depression, I highly recommend reading the entire article to get a better sense of how yoga can work with depression. Kraftsow also offers a unique practice sequence. And because I’m a writer by trade, I will also say–better even than consuming online, buy the winter 2011-2012 issue of Yoga International and support this kind of quality yoga content (versus so much of the vacuous, fluffy and celebrity-driven stuff you can find these days).

(Photo credit: gogoloopie’s Flickr stream)

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

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.