Under, over and breathless: Reflections on my fear of swimming and my students’ fear of headstands

Featured

I went to my last community swimming class this evening. Before the class started, I was asked to fill out an evaluation form and, almost to highlight how much of a minority I am to not know how to swim at this age, every question had the word child or children in it. Did you feel your child was safe? Did this children’s swim class meet your expectations? I crossed out “child” in the first question and put a smiley face next to it to indicate no hard feelings that this form seemed intent on reminding me that I have had more than three decades to figure this out.

The little kids who have shared the shallow end of the pool with me for the past eight weeks of this session —  the 3-plus “starfish” crowd — were promised certificates. We adults who have been timid about even entering the water were not promised any similar certificates. I understand. It sounds much cuter (and cooler, quite frankly) to graduate from being a minnow, guppy or a starfish than it does to graduate from the adult beginner class.

Plus, we didn’t even graduate. The other student and I (there were only two of us in this class — we started out with three but one person decided the class was not for them) were discussing whether we should try the intermediate class when the fall sessions start up. Our instructor very sweetly said that we might want to consider taking the beginner class again, so that we could work on refining our strokes.

“Refining” is a stretch. I first need to work on inhaling the right thing — air, not water — as I swim.

I am so happy I faced this fear of mine and took this class, though. I learned that I could tread water for 30 seconds, swim one length of the pool and float on my back without doing a backstroke — I mean, it is conceivable to just float and be more or less still! Crazy. I remember being so pumped about this novel discovery until my  partner in crime insisted that — um, it’s sort of known that people just naturally float. I disagree. I think my friend, who is also a non-swimmer, said it best in a tweet tonight calling this concept of people floating #shadyscience.

I teach four yoga classes of my own a week. Over the past three weeks, I’ve been subbing a ton more, which has resulted in the opportunity to work with several students — in small group sessions and in private session — who are afraid of going upside down. Their upside down is my under water. I get that fear. That intense feeling that you want to get to this place — being upside-down — because you know it will feel pretty damn good once you’re there. It’s just the whole getting there part. I want to be able to effortlessly swim a few laps so that I can exercise and relax — so that I can feel at home in water. I love water. My dream is to live near water. It’s just that I am afraid to be in water when it’s any deeper than 3 feet.

For students with fear, we take it slow. I suggest that they set up their arms — the foundation of the posture — and take several deep breaths before even going further. It’s the same thing with me — I’ve learned that I need to take a few deep breaths before trying to float on my back, because I other start to panic, then flail, then start to sink.

I suggest that students focus their gaze on a point either close to them on the mat or farther away that’s stationary so that their eyes don’t start to dart when they get imbalanced. When the gaze goes, it can hasten the falling-down process. It’s the same thing with me: early on, my swim instructor suggested that I get goggles. It made a world of difference. I’m so nearsighted that I can barely see clean lines of people across a room — they are just blurry — so when I looked down into the water and saw nothing but this vast pool of water waiting to pull me under, it would contribute to all the signals that told my brain that I should do whatever was necessary to get out of that situation as soon as possible.

So to everyone out there struggling with going upside-down — I am right there with you every time I get into the pool. Like you, I’m working on it, one attempt at a time. Baby steps.

Related post:

>>Like a matsya out of water: A yogi tries to learn how to swim

(Photo credit: “Pool” by zanzibar, 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.

Need a yoga travel agent? Check out my itineraries. (Or take a yoga staycation right on your mat.)

I ran into two fellow yoga instructors the other evening when I was at the Michigan Athletic Club (MAC) to teach my weekly vinyasa yoga class, and both of the separate conversations somehow flowed toward fun discussions about visiting yoga studios while traveling and about traveling to yoga trainings.

This had me wondering — for a hot second — whether YogaRose.net could branch out into the yoga travel industry. It reminded me of a day last year — a day when I was already daydreaming about finding a less stressful career — when a colleague sent me a link to a New York Times “Practical Traveler” article. My buddy John had found the dream job for me — teaching yoga at resorts around the world. How glorious. I still haven’t figured out how to apply to any of these places, but I’ve got that yoga resume ready to go.

I’m of course mostly kidding. While I would love to start traveling year-round to “research” national and international yoga retreats and the like (Which resort truly has the warmer water? Which has the deepest hues of turquoise?  Which offers the widest ranges of massage options? Trying to resolve tough questions like that), I somehow doubt that starting the YogaRose.net travel agency will be my ticket out of working full-time and praying that this country still has some social safety net when (if) retirement comes. Plus, it wouldn’t even be the most advisable yogic path.

Fantasies aside, I always try to connect people to a dreamy yoga destination or a deeply fulfilling training. Let me know what you think of some of the itineraries I find myself frequently recommending:

The yoga ‘staycation’

For most of the days out of the years when yogis can’t afford the time off or the money to travel, I remind them to consider time on their mat as a “staycation” for the body, mind and spirit. A 90-minute yoga staycation may not feel quite the same as practicing on the beach in a Caribbean climate, but most of the time, it’s the most practical, and the overall best, option. Yoga is about quieting the mind and turning the senses inward — sun, sand and Swedish massages are not technically mentioned in the Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita when discussing the aim of yoga.

But even the most dedicated yogis need a spark of inspiration and practical, hands-on guidance to deepen their practice. The most affordable way to achieve this is with a weekend workshop that’s within driving distance.

One-gas-tank getaway

After visiting the fantastic Yoga on High studio in Columbus, Ohio for the first time last year to take a workshop with Ashtanga instructor extraordinaire Tim Miller, I returned to Lansing and spread the word about how much I enjoyed the programs and the people in this town that’s a relatively easy four-and-a-half-hour drive from mid-Michigan. A few friends returned with me later that year for a workshop with the incredible Maty Ezraty. A few ashtangis made the pilgrimage to Tim Miller when I returned this year, and a fairly sizable contingent of Hilltop Yoga students went to Columbus last month to study with Maty Ezraty this time around.

In short, I like instigating one-gas-tank yoga caravans. But sometimes, there are events so powerful that I have to recommend students make the sacrifices they can make in order to plan for a big trip — like the one taking place in San Diego next March.

Converging where powerful streams of influence come together

I’ve been sharing my excitement — over Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Tumblr and, of course, here on WordPress — over the prospect of the first annual Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. I think at least a few folks from the greater Lansing area are already intending to make the trek — how very cool. Whether you are attending or not, I highly recommend getting in the spirit of the drumbeat leading up to the gathering by checking out The Confluence Countdown blog.

Ask a fellow yogi

When I can’t sleep, I am usually up reading (or writing) about yoga (most of my blog posts are written between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. — no joke! It’s the only real time I have to blog). When I travel, I try to find a local yoga studio to visit as a way to get to better know that place. When I get mischievous, I start plotting how to get to my next yoga retreat or training (such as the one I embark on in just over a week — working on Ashtanga second series with Tim Miller set against the backdrop of sweeping Mt. Shasta).

If we know each other in daily life and you have thoughts on a yoga getaway but don’t know exactly where to go, try me. If we don’t know each other except through this blog, try me anyway! Throw down a comment — the blogging community will certainly have ideas where I don’t.

Can yoganidrasana (“yogi’s sleep posture”) make dreams come true? 

If nothing else, let me know what you consider your dream yoga getaway. If you know me well, you probably know that mine is to be able to take the required month off of work to make the pilgrimage — and it is a pilgrimage — to Mysore, India, to study Ashtanga yoga in the city that serves as home base for this challenging and brilliantly designed practice. (There are pretty strict rules governing the  Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute, including the rule that you study for a minimum of a month at a time — no drop-in sessions or weekend workshops here!)

If I ever do get the chance to make this trip, I am all set because fellow Ashtanga yoga blogger Claudia Yoga, who is based in New York, has already created this guide to traveling to Mysore. I love the Ashtanga yoga blogging community dispersed around the world — they are some of the best built-in yoga travel guides you could ask for.

(Photo credits: YogaRose.net/iStockphoto(andreart) (top); “Acro Floating Yoganidrasana” via Yogable (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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does an instructor need the RYT designation to teach yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Hurry, take a photo of me in this pose!’: The view of a yoga journey from the one not on the mat

If a yogi lives in your home — doesn’t matter if it’s because you’re roommates, family, dating or married —  congratulations and condolences. Congratulations because you’re living with someone who practices a way of life (yoga is designed as a whole system, or eight limbs) aimed at mitigating human suffering and liberating us from attachments. Yoga improves physical health while centering and calming a person.

The condolences part comes because — face it — a yogi’s significant other, roommate or even close friend or colleague tends to get sucked into the world of asanas, mantras and what I’ll describe as “mat talk.”

In the spirit of poking a little good-natured fun at how serious we yogis can take ourselves, let’s break down the learning curve experienced by the person who’s not on the mat. And, in an ode to the cheekily irreverent tone of YogaDork, I will make an exception to my aversion to irresponsibly spreading fresh celebrity gossip by hereby sharing links to reports about charming funnyman Alec Baldwin reportedly dating yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas. Do you think it’s possible that Baldwin could benefit from this YogaRose.net post? I just exhaled a deep ujjayi breath just thinking about the possibility.

So, whether you’re the star of NBC’s “30 Rock” or not, check out my list of five signs you’ve been made an involuntary honorary yogi proponent (in the case of friends or roommate)/partner (in the case of a relationship) — or IHYP for short — even though you didn’t get the official memo announcing this change:

5. Your relaxation gleaned from soaking in the sun while chilling on the beach is interrupted when Yogi Partner (YP) suddenly shoves a camera into your hand and says, “Can you take my photo? I’m going to try a handstand!” 

For whatever reason, yogis cannot resist doing yoga postures on the beach. Something about the combination of the sand, sun and waves triggers a hormonal response in YPs that compels them to try out poses at the beach — particular arm balances and inversions, such as handstands and headstands.

4. You find yourself defending your basic photography skills (in the case of smart phones) or the shutter speed and aperture (in the case of nicer cameras) after you unsuccessfully tried to snap a shot of YP in an upside-down orientation or while balanced precariously on bents arms. 

Inevitably, YPs will try a pose they can’t master on land — postures such as adho mukha vrksasana (handstand) or bakasana (crane) — thinking that trying the yoga posture on a far less even and stable surface will magically help them achieve the posture. The problem is, since they can’t do this pose on land, even if they do luck into the posture, they inevitably fall out after about a second.

Once they fall out, however, they turn to the IHYP with a look of heightened expectation. “Well? Did you get it?” As the IHYP, if you say, “No, I couldn’t catch it in time,” you will likely be sent a look of disappointment and frustration, which inevitably causes you to blame yours skills (or the camera settings) rather than the YP’s ability to maintain this posture for more than two seconds.

The good news is, YPs appear to have unending patience with trying the posture over and over again until the IHYP finally figures out how to get it right (all the while, a YP may be secretly patting his or her own back for extending such yogic patience to the IHYP).

3. You find yourself defending your skills as a yoga consultant.

Let’s say you finally snap that photo. A YP will be elated and ask you to scroll through the digital images so he or she can see the shot. On occasion, a YP will stare into the screen, furrow the space between the eyebrows (the third-eye space, in mat talk) and say, “Oh. Why didn’t you tell me my right hip wasn’t in line with the left?”

At this point, as the IHVP, you will realize that you are terribly lucky in that you managed to get a shot at all. So you cannot, for reasons of diplomacy and maintenance of domestic peace, say, “Well, you could only get into it once and for two seconds — how was I supposed to have time to tell you?”

Instead, even as an IHYP in training, your survival instincts would be intact enough that you would know to reach for a good talking point. Popular ones include, “Oh, I didn’t even notice that until you pointed it out!” and “I thought you wanted to show imperfection, since you keep saying, ‘Yoga is a practice, not a perfect.'”

If your YP smiles at your comment and even hugs you, telling you that you’re the most awesome ever, feel the energy of your throat chakra (space of communication, in mat talk) suddenly becoming warm and illuminated. This is a big achievement; such a big achievement that if the journey of an IHYP could be mapped onto an Angry Birds game, you would now have the little black bomb birds at your disposal.

2. You find yourself saying, ‘*(name of Sanskrit word you don’t understand) — that’s great, honey!’ a lot.

Very early on, an IHYP realizes a new pattern. After work, YP heads straight to yoga class. After class, YP pulls into the driveway at home, opens the front door, barely mutters hello, and says, “Guess what posture I got into tonight?!” and then blurts out, before the IHYP in the room can muster a guess, “*(insert sirsasana/bakasana/pincha mayurasana/kurmasana!”

You know you’re becoming a professional-grade IHYP when you seamlessly parrot the Sanskrit name even though you have no idea how it’s really supposed to be pronounced or what it means, and say, “That’s great, honey! I know you’ve been working on that for a long time!”

IHYPs out there, here’s my tip — free of charge — that will get you extra bonus points with your YP. Before they look at you and (at first apologetically, but eventually, after a few months of taking yoga classes, as a command) ask you to witness the recreation of the posture, beat them to the punch. Say with gusto, “I’d love to see it!”

1. You seek advice from friends and colleagues about how to decline your YP’s invitation to sign up together for a yoga retreat.

This sign applies to romantic and non-romantic relationships. Inevitably, at some point, the YP in your life will send you a text from work asking, “How about a yoga retreat in August? Wouldn’t it be fun? Soooo relaxing! We need it!”

It would be natural that your first reaction is a visceral one — perhaps an image of the archetypal boyfriend who looks bored out of his mind while his girlfriend tries on one cute sale item after another at Express.

Understandably, you would then start to panic, wondering what you can say to stop this inevitable yoga train from leaving the station.

You may shoot a Facebook message to a fellow IHYP asking for advice. You may Google “reasons not to go on yoga retreat” and become an instant expert on documented horror stories, price ranges for yoga retreats, compatibility (or lack thereof) of yoga teachers and yoga styles, or travel restrictions, in the case of international travel.

Eventually, you realize the best course of action is to play the selfless significant other. “I doubt they’ll take me if I don’t practice yoga,” you text back. “Don’t want to be the reason u can’t go.” You, as the not-yet-master-level IHYP, think you’ve just heard the yoga engine turn off until you see the near-immediate reply, “No worries! U don’t need to practice yoga to come!”

And when, in a few short weeks, you find yourself on a mat practicing yoga during the yoga retreat that doesn’t require you to do yoga to attend, you will realize that you have just graduated from being an IHYP to simply an involuntary yogi (IY). You will be surprised to also realize that while yoga feels really, really hard, and while you don’t dig the whole mantra or chanting thing, you actually feel kind of exhilarated after the practice.

And that, dear IHYP-turned-IY, is when you can continue the vicious cycle and find an unsuspecting IHYP (a colleague, a friend, a sibling) to in turn corrupt. Congratulations! And condolences to them.

Me in a handstand on a beach in Carlsbad, Calif., in 2010. This photo was snapped not because I can do handstands well -- I was up for all of two seconds -- but because my sister Alisa has both great camera skills and a great camera.

(Photo credit: Alisa’s Happy World)

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

‘A thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20110704-024946.jpg

(Photo credit: By Evaporation Blues)

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

She’s got curves — are you sure she’s a yoga model?

Featured

Be honest: What was the first thing you thought of when you saw this ad?

Unless you’re immune to what American society seems to constantly tell us about what the ideal female body looks like, I think it’s hard not to do a double-take over this print ad, which appears in the current issues of Yoga Journal and Yoga International. My immediate reaction was, “Wow, did they really choose a larger model for this photo shoot? Props to you, Kripalu!”

I emailed Kripalu about the ad, and this is what Kripalu Marketing Operations Manager Joyce Monaco said:

As far as larger models go, we try to appeal to all types and want women and men of all shapes and sizes to know that Kripalu yoga is for everyone.

Kudos!

Online yoga watercoolers such as elephant journal — which describes itself as “a paperless vehicle devoted to bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society” — and the irreverent YogaDork blog have  featured some excellent articles and discussions about yoga and body image. Read “What does a yoga body look like?” and “The Curvy Yoga Proclamation: A Letter to Yoga Journal” as just two examples. I added my own two cents on International Women’s Day, with “Mirror, mirror…

As yogis, shouldn’t we be more interested in whether someone’s chakras are balanced versus whether they fit into size XS Hardtails? Or am I missing something here?

The more steeped I become in American yoga culture, the more I think it’s inevitable that the values and patterns so prevalent in our greater society seep into the culture of the yoga studio. Does it have to be that way? No — and if there’s any system or way of life with the potential to break those types of bounds, it’s the discipline of yoga. That said, when we step into a yoga studio, we don’t check our outlooks, perspectives or biases at the door. Yoga can help us start to undo our samskaras — deeply ingrained, habitual patterns — but only if we are absolutely vigilant.

I would love to see more ads — whether it’s for local yoga studios, international retreats, clothing lines or accessories — feature models who don’t look traditionally enviable. I say this for women and male models, even though the examples mentioned in this blog post pertain to women.

As a side note, I used to live in western Massachusetts, and I spent a weekend on the beautiful grounds of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. I actually didn’t go there for a yoga reatreat — I went there for a workshop on taiko drumming — and it was a blast. I’d love to head back to Kripalu one of these days — and the values that I saw conveyed through the selection of this print ad only makes me want to schedule that trip sooner rather than later.

(Image credit: Scan of Kripalu ad printed in Yoga International, summer 2011 edition)

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

The human body as a metro-styled map (aka, one way to imagine the chakra system)

Check out this world map that’s been brilliantly reenvisioned by Spanish artist Michael Tompsett as a metro-style map. I first saw this image yesterday on Melaz Cosmo’s Tumblr, and fell in love immediately. You can purchase this print as a canvas, as shown above, or as a print. Subway maps are some of my favorite things to collect when I travel, and my boyfriend and I recently picked up this gorgeous book called Transit Maps of the World that gives us all these amazing maps in one place. We only half joke when we say we’re going to start choosing our next vacations based on how inspired a city’s metro map looks. (The single craziest metro map I’ve seen so far, by the way, is Tokyo’s. Wow.)

This reimagining of a world map sparked a thought about the process of reimagination in general — a thought that ultimately led to how the practice of yoga can help us reimagine our body, mind and spirit. In the same way that a typical world map gives us continent outlines and maybe some topography, we as human beings tend to view our body the way we see it in a photograph: made up of the outlines created by the architecture that is our skeleton, flesh, skin.

But a yoga practice is designed to send our awareness inward — inward even to the level of energy centers called chakras that we can’t see, touch or even really scientifically prove exist. The current Wikipedia entry on chakras offers a decent overview:

Chakra is a concept referring to wheel-like vortices which, according to traditional Indian medicine, are believed to exist in the surface of the etheric double of man. The Chakras are said to be “force centers” or whorls of energy permeating, from a point on the physical body, the layers of the subtle bodies in an ever-increasing fan-shaped formation. Rotating vortices of subtlematter, they are considered the focal points for the reception and transmission of energies.Different systems posit a varying number of chakras; the most well known system in the West is that of seven chakras.

Chakras aren’t something you will ever find during a cadaver dissection. If you find the whole concept of chakras to be foreign and undigestible, it’s not my intention in this blog to bring you around on chakras (although I feel compelled to say I know scientists who practice yoga who find the chakra system to be a very useful way of imagining and experiencing their own body and spirit).

What I wanted to share in this blog post is my feeling that putting the metro-style world map above next to a more traditional world map could be one way to try to understand — if you’re open to the idea — how chakras can be imagined next to the more traditional western view of the human body. Rather than look at the external outlines of a body, you can consider the energetic stops along a human being’s route of existence.

The rough idea is that the first chakra, the root chakra located at the base of the spine, is the energy center that grounds us and the seventh one, located at the crown, is our space of liberation through its connection to whatever you want to describe as divine intelligence. In between, you have chakras where emotion, will, love, communication and intuition are based.

I had to read Wheels of Life as part of the 200-hour yoga teacher training I took through Hilltop Yoga in mid-Michigan. There were aspects of this book that were, admittedly, too far into the New Age realm for me to be comfortable. But there were aspects of the book that I really enjoyed exploring — such as the idea that we can try to see which chakra is dominant in our own personality, and in the personality of our signifiant other or love interest. Using the imagery of how chakras interact as a way to map out the dynamics of a relationship is fascinating to me, and I think it can be a helpful way of viewing struggling relationships.

Dr. Ray Long, a University of Michigan-educated orthopedic surgeon whose books include one on my bookshelf that I love referring to — The Key Muscles of Yoga: Scientific Keys, Vol. 1 —  offers anatomic breakdowns that show which chakras is most relevant to a particular muscle action and posture. (In case you’re interested, Dr. Long is coming to Michigan twice in 2011 — for more see my one-tank-of-gas workshop page.)

Whether you find any value to thinking about the chakra system, I think it’s safe to say that those willing to commit to a solid yoga practice has a far better map to the body, mind and spirit than they would have ever had if they had never stepped aboard that yoga train.

(Image credits: Map via http://www.imagekind.comChakras via Joelstuff V3’s Flickr photostream, licensed through 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.

Like a matsya out of water: A yogi tries to learn how to swim

Wide-mouth-guppy

"Big mouth guppy" by Alice Chaos via Flickr Creative Commons

I don’t know how to swim, and I feel as if I am the only one in this country over 8 years old who falls into this category. Every year, I tell myself that this will be the year I stop flailing in water — the year that I can look at a pool and think about what I can do in that space, rather than what I can’t.

Well, tonight I took the first of eight 30-minutes classes I’ve signed up for through my local park and rec department. I figured it was time. I’m not getting any younger, and  life only gets busier. Besides, 2011 has been a great year so far for me trying out other ways to feel more expressive in my own skin.

Clinging

Being the former inquisitive reporter that I am, I asked the very sweet, young instructor if adults are the hardest to teach. She said no — that little kids cling to her and cry, scream. I asked her if she was sure that none of us (me) would eventually get to that point.

I don’t know why I don’t know how to swim. I have fond memories from my childhood of taking swimming lessons, with my mom and her radiant smile watching from the sides. But somehow either the lessons didn’t stick or fear took over. Fast forward, for instance, to my middle school years. I was extremely lucky to win a scholarship to Space Camp — yes, it was as awesome as it sounds — and while I mostly have fun recollections from that experience, there was one activity held in water. I think it was a team-building exercise to build some geometric shape in the middle of the pool. The only thing I contributed to was my lack of confidence in a body of water, because I remember clinging to the side of the pool most of the time. Fast forward again, to freshman year. At my high school, all students were required to take swimming in the ninth grade. But the pool was going through a renovation the semester I was set to take it, so I escaped (which, being a body-conscious teenager who did not want to be near any other human being (especially of the male variety) while wearing a bathing suit, I couldn’t have been happier about). I saw it as an escape at the time, but it was another opportunity to avoid facing my insecurities.

The dunk

Class sizes are limited to six in this program, and there were three in our group tonight — one of whom happens to be a former coworker. Neither of us knew we were taking this class, and we were surprised to see the other, in no small part due to the fact that we both think we are alone in not knowing how to swim.

The instructor started us out slow, allowing us to simply get accustomed to standing in the shallow end of the pool. While the pint-sized “starfish” next to our little area were all moving around with as much gusto as if they were on land, we adults  — being the land-tied creatures that we are — were very cautious, thinking about, and discussing with one another, every instruction before we actually tried it out.

I was feeling pretty good, though, until we were instructed to dunk our head under water and either blow out of our mouth or nose.

I hated it. And although we were supposed to do it a few times, I could only stand doing it twice.

It occurred to me then that I don’t mind being in water — I mind the act, or even the thought of the act — of having my head under water. I can’t pinpoint why, but maybe  it reminds me of having asthma attacks as a kid. All I knew is I wanted out — immediately.

Testing new waters

As a yoga instructor, one of my favorite classes to teach is an intro to yoga class. I think of it as being a tour guide to a new experience — which means that I can’t take anything for granted. I may be accustomed to connecting a movement to a breath, but that doesn’t mean the person on the mat in front of me is. I may feel a sense of exhilaration from the chest-breathing (versus breathing into the low belly) technique used in Ashtanga yoga — called ujjayi breath — but that doesn’t mean it’s accessible to someone who is stepping on a yoga mat for the first time.

Needless to say, I was grateful that this instructor took nothing for granted either. She didn’t even assume that we were comfortable standing in three feet of water away from a wall. The 30 minutes felt like 15, and by the end, we were getting from one end of the pool to the other using swimming strokes but with one hand holding on to a flotation barbell.

I’m looking forward to next week, and I’m happy to take this slowly so that I can start to isolate what exactly it is that’s holding me back.

Guppies, yoga-style

If you’re curious about the title of the blog post, matsya means “fish” in Sanskrit. Matsyasana, or fish posture, occurs in the finishing sequence of Ashtanga yoga. In Ashtanga, you see it done while the legs are in padmasana, or lotus pose. Outside of Ashtanga yoga, I see it more frequently with legs extended.

Myths of the Asanas tells the story of Matsya, the special fish who overhead Shiva telling Parvati about yoga. By listening, the fish became the first student of yoga. The book continues:

When someone becomes truly enlightened, he or she has an opportunity to return to earth in order to help the rest of us who are interested in this kind of liberation. Matsya chose to come back, and he was born, as legend tells it, as half fish, half human. He was called Matsyendranath, ‘the lord of the fishes.’

Ardha matsyendrasana, or half lord of the fish pose, is a spinal twist that occurs in Ashtanga second series. There is a a very challenging posture called purna matsyendrasana, or full fish pose, that occurs in a very advanced series of Ashtanga yoga. The difference between the two is that in the full version of the pose, the bent leg is in half-lotus.

(Photo credit: “Big mouth guppy” by Alice Chaos 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.

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

YogaRose.net Explainer Wordle

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

What is a vinyasa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the rest of it Ashtanga yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

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

~~~

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

~~~

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

YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X

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

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

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

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

~~~

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

~~~

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

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

With apologies to the outstanding Slate series called Slate Explainer — one of my absolute favorite things to read — I’m starting YogaRose.net Explainer to answer your questions about yoga postures seen in popular media.

This past Sunday, the venerable New York Times ran this photo of Silicon Valley success story B.J. Fogg:

(Photo credit: New York Times photo via nytimes.com)

It was a great eye-catching photo. Unless you practice Ashtanga yoga, you might have asked yourself, “What is the posture?”

Perhaps the more intriguing question is, “How does anyone get into that pose?”

What is the posture?

This posture is referred to as ut plutihi, uth pluthi, uth pluthi or utpluthi (oot-PLOOT-tee-he). It’s a Sanskrit term that means “up root” (“uprooting”). This posture appears at the very end of the Ashtanga yoga finishing postures — right before you come into savasana (corpse pose). That means this pose comes just before savasana, in which the effects of the challenging, sweaty practice gets absorbed and infused through the body, mind and spirit. (Not surprisingly, savasana is often cited as the reason why students keep coming back to their mat.)

By the way, this pose is different than the one you might have seen elsewhere. Back in 2011, for instance, supermodel Christy Turlington posed for the cover of Time:

Christy Turlington on the cover of Time (April 23, 2011)

It may seem similar at first, but in this posture, you go into lotus, slide your arms through your legs — and then lift up. This is called kukkutasana (rooster) pose.

How do you get into the posture?

Traditionally, you first head into padmasana (lotus pose). In Ashtanga, the right leg folds first. (In this photo, the left leg was brought in first, which could mean that side of the body feels better for Fogg. But some Ashtangis believe that you should switch legs — bringing one leg in first one time, then switching — to balance out the body.)

You engage your core and you engage your root energetic lock — I think of it as bringing buoyancy to the base of the spine — and, using your breath up, lift. The spine is in flexion, which essentially means the spine curls forward rather than stay straight and extended.

You keep breathing your ujjayi breath to maintain the posture for several breaths — perhaps 10 to 25.

Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy by Gregor Maehle describes uth pluthi as: “one of the best postures for restoring energy,” saying that it “eliminates fatigue at the end of the practice.”

YogaRose.net counter-question: Are you thinking your arms aren’t long enough?

If you are, you are correct. Unless you have disproportionately long arms, your arms are not long enough. That’s why the core and the energetic lock are so important. You are getting your arms long enough, so to speak, by shortening the torso — by lifting up out of this posture.

If you think it looks difficult, I would be lying if I said it’s not. It can be very difficult — getting into lotus posture alone is such a challenge for many. On the other hand, I’d be withholding important information if I didn’t add that it’s probably not as difficult as you think.

You don’t need flexibility or strength to get into yoga — you need a mind that’s open to the idea that if you are patient enough, and have the right guidance, you will find some of these seemingly impossible postures to be accessible.

Thinking back to the name of this posture, you might say the thing that has to uproot the most to get into it is our perception that the posture is not accessible.

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

© 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.

Be the yoga teacher and adjust my warrior pose!

Ask anyone who seriously practices yoga, and it’s likely they have a nemesis posture — that posture that challenges and frustrates, defying all laws of physics and logic. If postures were ninjas, the nemesis would be the one you meet in a dark alley to duke it out in the climatic fight scene of a movie.

Mine is, I suppose appropriately enough, warrior 1 pose (virabhadrasana 1 in Iyengar yoga, virabhadrasana A in Ashtanga yoga). In Ashtanga primary series, you enter this posture 12 times — and I feel relief with each and every exit. On a good day, I enter the pose with a blend of acceptance and resignation. On a not so good day, I enter with pure resignation or outright dread. It’s not for lack of good instruction or lack of trying. Over the years, I’ve been adjusted and instructed by outstanding master teachers from around the country who are trained in different schools of yoga. They have spent time with me, breaking down the posture and what I’m doing — or not doing. On my own, I’ve studied the nuances of this posture, and I am constantly taking inventory of my body and my thoughts in this posture. I can tell you what the design of this posture is, and I can tell you what to aim for in the legs, hips, ribs, arms, and so on. I can tell you what you should adjust in my body.

And yet my warrior posture still looks like this:

If you are a student of yoga, it might seem like I’m just not fully going into this posture. But believe me, just getting to this point is work. I have to marshal that yogic breath, and from the inside of this posture, it feels as if I am at my edge. There is major resistance in my body and my mind when it comes to warrior 1.

Some poses are just like that, but we learn so much about ourselves by trying to find a space where we can maintain a steady comfort in a nemesis pose.

I’m posting these photos to let you be the yoga teacher and tell me how you would adjust this posture. I realize seeing a static photo taken with an iPhone isn’t ideal, so feel free to ask questions as part of your observations. I was recently at a workshop with Tim Miller, and he put it about as concisely as you can: “A good adjustment starts with a good observation.”

What spurred me to think of this as fodder for a blog post is that applications for Hilltop Yoga’s summer teacher training program are due on May 10. I know a couple people who have already turned in their application, and I couldn’t be happier for them. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your life. I made my decision in 2009, during a weekend workshop on the root energetic lock — mula bandha — taught by Hilaire Lockwood, the owner of Hilltop Yoga. Hilaire has such a vivid way of instructing, and tapping into the subtleties of that energetic lock in which you lift the pelvic floor and spiral your energy up from the base of the spine helped me become friends with what at the time my was my top nemesis posture — chair pose (utkatasana). That one two-hour workshop completely changed my relationship with this posture. (Once utkatasana moved out of that top spot, virabhadrasana moved right into its place. And it has remained solidly there, despite all my attention to it. My struggle with virabhadrasana A runs deeper than more surface issues that can be addressed in other postures.)

At the time, I was really restless living in mid-Michigan and kept thinking there was a way I could get back to California. I jumped into teacher training solely to deepen my practice with this incredible teacher  because who knew? I might be moving at any time, and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.

There wasn’t a bone in my body that wanted to, or expected to, teach. And yet here I am, teaching at least four classes a week. Life has its course, doesn’t it.

But enough about me. Tell me what you see and what you would do to help me in this posture. Be the yoga teacher.

And if you’re on the fence about applying for the Hilltop teacher training, jump in — become a yoga teacher, even if the only person you intend to guide is yourself.

(Thanks to fellow WordPress blogger over at Evaporation Blues for being willing to miss part of the NBA playoffs to take these shots.)

© 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.

An airplane’s flight and an ashtangi’s float

I was watching Man Vs. Wild the other night and a Delta Airlines commercial came up. I wasn’t even paying attention to what was on the screen, but one of the lines I heard from the commercial caught my attention: “If you run before the wind, you can’t take off.”

I teach up to four Ashtanga classes every week, which means I am verbally cueing a lot of float-throughs — going from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to a seated position — so I think about that float-through journey quite a bit. When I heard this random line from the commercial, I suddenly started paying attention because I thought that it might be a fitting analogy for Ashtanga vinyasa float-throughs. Although Ashtanga yoga can be made accessible for everyone, there’s no question that it’s extremely challenging. And within this practice, the float-through or jump-through can be one of the hardest aspects for new and veteran students alike.

So, inspired by this ad (?!), I decided to break down how I think it relates to floating through in Ashtanga. Here’s what the narrator says in this black-and-white commercial:

What does it take to fly? It takes knowing we have our work cut out for us. Flying brings more challenges every day. But if you ask any of the pilots who work here, they’ll say one of the first things they learned in flight school is that if you run before the wind, you can’t take off. You’ve got to turn into it — face it. The thing you push against is the thing that lifts you up.

How can this imagery be applied to the ashtanga float-through?

What does it take to fly? It takes knowing we have our work cut out for us.

The first step to floating is to understand that it takes a lot of practice. In many cases — my own practice included — years of trying. Not weeks, not months — years. It took me longer to learn how to float through than it did to get through my undergraduate and graduate studies. I think one of the most important lessons we get from Ashtanga yoga is that we need both short-term and long-term patience. It’s not a cliche to say that with this practice, it is about the journey, and not the destination.

Flying brings more challenges every day.

After we find our float-through, then what? It’s just more work, because when we do unlock our personal mystery of how to find this yogic flight pattern, the journey continues to challenges us. Then it becomes about refinement of bandhas (the energy locks employed in Ashtanga yoga) and refinement of form.

…if you run before the wind, you can’t take off.

Here we get to mechanics. As we learn the jump through, we really need to focus on what the hips and core are doing, and how the breath factors into that.

This is what has worked for me. In downward-facing dog, check in and make sure your energetic locks are engaged (mula bandha and uddiyana bandha) by lifting up on the pelvic floor and spiraling that energy through the low belly. (Bandha interlude: If you practice Ashtanga, you know that figuring out bandhas can take years — decades even. David Williams says in his interview in Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students that it took him 10 years to understand mula bandha. My latest eight-word summary of these two energetic locks? Bringing buoyancy to  the base of the spine.) Inhale length into the spine. On the exhalation, bend the legs as if your lower body were a wind-up toy. Look far forward — very, very far forward — and on the inhale, ride the air current of your breath to float your body through.

British yoga instructor John Scott — who came to yoga by way of golf — offers a beautiful breakdown of the floating-through process in his book Ashtanga Yoga. I found an excerpt of this part of Scott’s book, but I truly hope that you buy the book or buy the video rather than rely on this excerpt. For one thing, there’s the whole yogic concept of asteya. For another, they are excellent resources.

You’ve got to turn into it — face it. The thing you push against is the thing that lifts you up.

The breath is what literally keeps us alive. And yet most of us go through the day without breathing to capacity — holding our breath, even, when challenge strikes, as if that will somehow help us get through adversity. For the Ashtanga float-through, become your breath — that wind will carry you farther than you thought possible.

© 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.

Mirror, mirror…

Twitter told me that it’s International Women’s Day and Fat Tuesday. What an appropriate day, then, for me to see this Tumblr post by Penguinslover:

I vaguely remember reading about a study in college (a long, long time ago :-) ) that verified what this animated photo shows — that a woman’s cognitive perception of her body can literally be this divorced from reality.

I teach yoga, and one of the themes that I constantly bring into class is that yoga is not about body image — to a point where I would rather not teach in a yoga studio that has mirrors.

I’ll take a step back here to say that in the yoga community, there are some who believe strongly that students should have mirrors, and others who believe that mirrors serve only to distract. At Hilltop Yoga, where I teach Ashtanga yoga a few times a week, mirrors would never be allowed. At the Michigan Athletic Club, where I teach power yoga once a week, the club’s dedicated yoga studio has two connected walls with mirrors and two connected walls without, to accommodate yoga teachers from both schools. Teachers who want their students to be able to see themselves have their students face one way, and the other set of teachers have their classes face the other way.

My sister, who recently started teaching yoga in San Jose, Calif., and I have had long conversations about this. I think that once a student gets to a point where they have a very keen sense of body awareness — where they turn inward first to feel what their body is doing in space and time — then selective use of a mirror can refine alignment of muscle and joint actions/relationships. Reliance on mirrors before that? I see students every week use the mirror to check themselves out in the same judgmental way they might do in the morning as they get dressed for work.

This brings me back to the animated graphic posted on Tumblr that I’ve inserted into this post. Despite all this, I don’t think I’ve changed enough from my middle school days, when I look at my profile in the bathroom mirror and feel hopelessly frustrated at the size of my belly. After teaching yoga for more than 18 months, I still do what the woman in this picture is doing. I mean, this evening, after taking a much-needed yoga class with Misty Flahie, I went to my local natural foods store and tweeted this without seeing the hypocrisy at the time.

Do I need to lose weight? I could stand to lose a few pounds. All my pants have been fitting a litter tighter since the winter started, and there is a very logical reason for that: since November, my schedule has either been so sporadic (some international travel, which can throw you off for a long time) or so work-intensive — and something has had to give. That something has been my yoga practice, which is all I do to stay fit. I don’t run. I don’t do cardio machines at the gym. If I don’t take a sweaty 90-minute yoga class or find an hour or so at home to practice, then I’m not getting a physical workout. In the last few weeks, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to an actual yoga class that I took, rather than taught.

But do I need to lose weight in the way that I’m thinking about it in my head? The way I think when I look in the mirror. Probably not.

So, in honor of International Women’s Day, I’ll try (again) to do a better job of walking the yoga walk when it comes to body image. I can’t blame mirrors — it’s how I use them.

© 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 my salsa teacher wants my hips to do

Featured

Salsa dress

My hips were not cooperating during my salsa lesson today. My instructor reminded me that my hips need to be set back from the center line — to a point where I feel like I am sticking my butt way out. I’ve spent so much time working with yoga instructors on finding a neutral space in my pelvic girdle that this adjustment feels tremendously exaggerated, awkward and basically awful.

But this is salsa, and it looks fantastic.

My boyfriend and I love salsa dancing. We had our first impromptu salsa lesson in, of all places, a winery in Traverse City. We paid a visit to the very cool Left Foot Charley tasting room (if you haven’t been, you should) on a night that happened to feature a great latin band. There were competitive dancers there who were moving so beautifully together. They clearly sensed that we were itching to move to that music too, but had no idea where to start. So they came over and pretty much forced us up and gave us our first “quick-quick-slow” lesson. I was wearing a pair of beat-up Vans that one of my sisters had given me, and my boyfriend was wearing hiking boots.

We figured if we could manage to dance that night while essentially wearing blocks on our feet — and enjoy it that much — we should get into this salsa thing.

Since then, we’ve been to a few salsa nights here and there, and we spent New Year’s Eve dancing at the Global Pachanga held at the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids. While we had a fantastic time doing our thing, it seemed everyone around us glided over that dance floor differently. That’s a lot of people who know what they’re doing, and they must have made the effort to learn somehow. So I made my commitment then and there that I would learn to move like that.

Making the transition from looking like you’re trying to salsa and looking like you’ve spent your whole life dancing this way starts, like so many things, with the hips.

“You know, it’s like if you’re running, you wouldn’t run like this,” my teacher said, pushing his pelvis forward and doing a mock run.

“I don’t run,” I interrupted. “But I see what you’re saying.”

“Ah, yes, I remember you told me that last time that you don’t run.” (I really don’t like running, and hope to never have to do it again for as long as I live.)

Yoga is only concerned with the body’s structure, and what’s going on with the alignment of bones and joints. Every now and then I need to tell my yoga students — especially students who are new to the mat — that they don’t need to look around to see how everyone else is doing it. That it doesn’t matter what they look like, because what matters is propriceptive awareness — gaining an understanding of how to set the body in space by feeling it.

How the body looks obviously matters in any type of dance. In salsa, when the hips slide back and that back leg straightens, you’ve won half the battle because you look the part. It goes against the grain for me to place my hips somewhere because it looks better that way, but it’s a fun challenge to switch gears that way.

My one and only resolution this year is to learn how to salsa — not how to move my feet, but how to get my body to mirror the exhilaration of what I already feel when there’s latin music playing and I’m on the dance floor.

And I learned today that with salsa, as with so many things, you won’t make progress until you start to become awareness of what your hips are doing with every movement.

© 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.

Not living life through the rearview mirror

An abandoned baseball

Armando Galarraga was traded today from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you’re a baseball fan, I don’t need to include a boilerplate. But the journalist in me will provide one anyway: On June 2, 2010, Galarraga would have become the 21st pitcher in history to pitch a perfect game had it not been for an umpire’s lousy — and it was truly lousy — call.

I wrote a blog post about it at the time. I was angry. I still am — though more than anything else, my disgust is more directed toward Bud Selig refusing to overturn the call.

In a USA Today story, Galarraga is quoted as saying:

Everybody knows what happened. Sometimes, I want to be myself. I want it to be over. Nobody’s perfect. Let’s turn the page.

Even as he’s being traded, Galarraga is showing his yogic sensibilities.

Moving on — that’s a hard thing, and something that consistent yoga practice can help us achieve. It’s hard to forge ahead when you can’t take your eyes off the rearview mirror. Whether it’s a memory, a past relationship, or a regret, I’ve found that trying to brute force that process of letting go rarely ever works. And I know I’m not alone. Most of us have a tape that plays in our head — a tape that we wish we could turn off, or at the very least quiet down.

So how does coming to the mat day after day help us let go? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body, as I often say. During a yoga practice, we are seeking to open and expand — on the level of the body, the mind and the spirit. Linking breath to movement through yoga postures can, when the frequency is right, make us emotionally accessible enough to let something fall away. Or, if that thought or memory or feeling is lodged in pretty deep, the difficult work of a yoga practice can at least loosen that something.

B.K.S. Iyenger writes in his gorgeous book Light on Life:

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, chose to make the workings of mind and consciousness, both in success and in failure, the central theme of yoga philosophy and practice. In fact, from the yogi’s point of view, practice and philosophy are inseparable. Patanjali’s first sutra says, ‘Now I’m going to present the disciplined code of ethical conduct, which is yoga.’ In other words, yoga is something you do. So what do you do? The second sutra tells us, ‘Yoga is the process of stilling the movements and fluctuations of the mind that disturb our consciousness.’ Everything we do in yoga is concerned with achieving this incredibly difficult task (p. 108).

“Incredibly difficult” — talk about an understatement. But that’s what it takes to start the long journey of separating from a memory or a script that we’ve written for ourselves.

Galarraga’s right once again to say that it’s time to move on and keep the focus on the road ahead, not the one left behind in the dust.

Good luck in Arizona, Armando. Thanks for being such a good sport.

(Photo credit: Marcus McCurdy)

What yogis can learn from the NFL

Geen Bay Packer fanIs it just me, or has there been hours and hours of football — college and pro — pretty much daily since Christmas? I don’t even live in an apartment inhabited by hardcore football fans, and still, somehow, football seems to always be on the TV.

From baseball to music concerts, I always manage to see analogies to yoga and symbolism fit for the yogic lifestyle. So, as the Packers and the Bears battle it out this afternoon, I’m wondering what parallels I can draw between the helmet-crunching world of football to the spine-lenghtening world of yoga.

I’ve thought all afternoon about this (OK, that is also hyperbole), and now that I’ve gotten out of the shower and am getting ready to go back to the yoga studio and teach my second class today, I’ve come to my conclusion.

What can yogis learn from the National Football League?

Not a damn thing.

To all you football fans out there, I’m happy that you’re happy (if you’re happy based on how your team’s done, that is). Enjoy the Super Bowl, and I’ll talk to you in February.

(Photo credit: GreenBayPackerNation.com)

It’s a calendar. A datebook. A fundraiser. And it’s a…flip book?!

I recently wrote a post about a fundraising calendar put out by some artistic and generous yogis at the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Ashtanga Yoga Center. My calendar has arrived in the mail, and to my surprise, it’s much more than a calendar. (Drumroll, please…)

That’s right. This calendar is, as promised, a calendar. It’s a datebook. It’s a photo album. And it’s also — a flip book! Not  just any flip book. For Tim Miller fans out there, it’s a Tim Miller flip book. Check out the video above to see Tim doing some cool arm balances.

What’s not to love? For less than $20, you’d be getting a beautiful keepsake calendar that doubles as a fun little flip book. More than anything, you’d get the satisfaction knowing that you’re contributing to an effort to help one yogi pay down his mounting medical bills.

Vande gurūṇāṃ caraṇāravinde

If you saw the title of this post and it sparked an emotional reaction, you’re more than likely an Ashtangi. That is the first line of the traditional opening invocation that begins an Ashtanga practice. (To be precise, an “aum” is chanted first. For more on “aum,” often written as “om,” see this handy little YogaJournal.com beginner’s guide on yoga chants.)

For various reasons, the invocation has been the topic of a few conversations I’ve had with yogis in the last couple of weeks — some because they are relatively new to the practice, and some by way of discussing personal philosophy. As a teacher, for example, should you always include the chant, no matter what the setting for a class?

To me, the Ashtanga opening invocation is about honoring the teachers who came before our teachers — about honoring those who have helped clear the path before us. We have to walk this journey of life ourselves, but the teachings of history’s gurus can provide us with invaluable wisdom and comfort. I think chanting this invocation changes the quality and the intention of a practice. Sounds and the stories told in lyrics can change our moods and perception in other aspects of our lives — why not in a yoga practice? On my resources page, I link to this translation and recording of the invocation, as chanted by Pattabhi Jois himself. It’s beautiful in the depth and starkness of its simplicity.

This brings me to Madonna.

Unless you’re so young that you make me feel even older than I am (in which case, please don’t remind me), you probably sort of remember Madonna’s album Ray of Light. It came out in 1998, when I was finishing up journalism grad school. This was about a year before I set foot in my first yoga studio, and probably a couple years before I discovered Ashtanga yoga. So while I’m sure I’ve heard this song before — because one of my suitemates bought this album when it was released — I didn’t know what I was listening to at the time.

Ray of Light album coverMadonna, as you can imagine, does not go for simplicity. She sets this invocation to a trance-ish beat. Watch her live performance of this song at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1998 — all garbed up in an Indian-inspired look to boot — or listen to the Dubtronic Cosmos Trance Remix, if you can’t get enough. There are other remixes as well, but you get the point.

For the record, I have this rather cool Tumblr blog to thank for reminding me that this song exists.

Does it drive you crazy that Madonna took the invocation and made a pop track out of it? Or do you think there’s something to be said for her reimagining tradition?

By the way, I know that this is the second blog post in as many months in which I’ve written about Madonna. (I posted “How to lose a practice in 10 days (or, what Madonna can teach us all about maintaining a yoga practice during the most hectic travel time of year)” over the holidays.) I promise not to make this habit. 😉 It’s just that as a former reporter, I am trained to follow news pegs. Madonna just seems to be flitting across my radar screen lately, and both as a journalist by training and a yogi by practice, I have learned to go with the flow.

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

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

Madonna--in a bit of a bind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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