The sixth time’s still the charm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

To the (full) moon!

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

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

Why? Tim Miller explains this on his website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: “Full Moon” via Windsordi’s Flickr stream via Flickr Creative Commons)

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

Fallen arches, salsa dancing and yoga standing postures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reimagining…everything

Via jmak.tumblr.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Jonathan Mak’s Tumblr)

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

 

Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, remixed

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

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

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

Whose drumbeat do you move to?

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

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

The salsa beat

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

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

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

The Ashtanga breath

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

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

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

Moving at the speed of life

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

The Learn to Float instructional video

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

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

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

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

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

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

David begins to demonstrate surya namaskara A with this instruction:

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

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

David makes a point to say that the drumbeat is just a prop — when you practice on your own, your breath may be a slower or faster. He says:

What matters is that you’re feeling what it’s like to breathe evenly, and to pace the movements evenly with the breath.

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

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

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

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

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

 

While I was sleeping, @ashtangayoga tweeted this:

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

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

David says in the DVD:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Today was my appointment for 2011.

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

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

Do you know how where you pack your stuff?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

…followed by:

Aaaanddd down I go again #Lyme

….followed by:

Hey, Lyme rhymes with Light…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Eight limbs

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

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

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

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

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

Six days a week?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedication

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

(Photo credit: Flame of a burning citronella candle magnified 10X by Jonathan Gill via Flickr Creative Commons)

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

 

 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(Image credit: By robotson via Flickr Creative Commons)

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

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

Heels, baby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via BandhaYoga.com

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

It rocked.

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

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

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

Proprio….neuro…what?

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

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

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

Here’s more from BandhaYoga.com:

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

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

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

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

Connecting with your inner anatomist

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

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

Some of the nuggets I took away this weekend:

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

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

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

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

Learn more

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

1. Sign up for Google+

Get a Google+ account.

2. Go to Sparks from your profile

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

3. Type in an interest and add it.

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

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

Related features:
>>Ashtanga Yoga+ Social Media Grid 

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

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

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

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

Features include:

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

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

(Image via MichaelGannonYoga.com)

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

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

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

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

First, the analogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid

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

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

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

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

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

Slammed. 

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

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

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

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

Have I mentioned that reentry is hard?

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

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

Departures and arrivals

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

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

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

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

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

In this series:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this series:


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

Economic bubbles, bubble baths and a breath of fresh air

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

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

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

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

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

How does that work?

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

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

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

Yep — they are solidly in their head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this series:


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

A girl and a guru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He added, “I like going slow.”

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

In this series:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

The flexibility of fearlessness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


In this series:


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

‘Volcanic legacy’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A girl, a volcano and a ring

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

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

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

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

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

Why do I feel ready to face this now?

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

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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.

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? 

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

~~~

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

YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X

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

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

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

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

© 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.

Do your summer travel plans include a yoga workshop?

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

Urdvha dhanurasana

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

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

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

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

Happy traveling!

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

Get your ‘shanti’ on this Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shanti (peace).

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

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

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

Tittibhasana B

I hate this posture.

Let me rephrase. I loathe this posture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eka pada sirsasana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique now open

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

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

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

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

Eight things to know about March 2012

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

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

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

1. Richard Freeman

2. Nancy Gilgoff

3. Tim Miller

4. David Swenson

5. Eddie Stern

6. San Diego

7. March 1-4, 2012

8. http://ashtangayogaconfluence.com/

Did I mention this will be incredible?

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


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

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


Workshop description

Dancing with the Deities

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

Choreographing the dance

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

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

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

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

Studying the dance

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

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

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

Stories about the deities

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

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

The Little Book of Hindu Deities
Sanjay Patel

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

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

The best way I can describe Gregor Maehle’s excellent books on Ashtanga yoga is “heady.” He is thorough, intellectual and esoteric — but without being inaccessible. I picked up his first book on Ashtanga primary series and his newest book on second series for the anatomy details. But the true gift in Maehle’s intermediate series book, in my opinion, is the section on mythology. A table in this book, for example, lists four categories of postures (lifeless forms, animals, human forms, divine forms), along with the dominant guna of those sets of postures (whether tamas, rajas or sattva) and the asanas in the Ashtanga second series that fall into each category. You will get insights from this book you won’t find anywhere else — starting with pasasana, the first posture in second series, and one which we typically hear of as “noose posture.” Maehle picks up where everyone else would stop: “Noose refers here to the posture of the arms, which are thrown like a noose around the legs. Pasha is also one of the thousand names of the Lord Shiva, who is also called Pashaye, Lord with the noose.” The book is gorgeously annotated. And have I mentioned it’s thorough? (In addition to the paperback copy, this book is also available as a Kindle ebook.)

Elephant Power
MC Yogi

Elephant Power, centered around stories of Ganesh, is actually a really fun way to get to know the stories of some of the most famous deities. MC Yogi, whose father initially got him into Ashtanga yoga when he was 18, grew up in northern California listening to Beastie Boys and Run DMC. He has a unique hip-hop style, and he knows his mythical tales. I was pretty incredulous when I first heard about MC Yogi — I can be a total music snob, and I admit it — but he is the real deal. He’s also got some heavy hitters in the kirtan world featured on this album, including Bhagavan Das, Krishna Das, Sharon Gannon, and Jai UttalSee some lyrics and listen to samples.

Flow of Grace
Krishna Das

Flow of Grace, which came out in 2007, is a book and a set of two CDs. Flow of Grace would have to be a large part of a blog post on Hanuman, but the short version might be best described by Krishna Das’ website: “Krishna Das has been singing the Hanuman Chalisa for over thirty years, and on his newest CD, Flow of Grace, he takes us deep into the heart of this powerful prayer to Hanuman, the embodiment of devotion, service, strength, and compassion.” If you’ve never heard the Hanuman Chalisa, you can listen to the samples found online, but I can tell you from experience that you won’t feel the power of the chalisa until you are sitting in a room full of people chanting it — perhaps with someone playing a harmonium. Pick Flow of Grace up to start to understand why the great monkey king is so revered.

The epic tales

The Little Book of Hindu Deities offers this pithy overview of Hindu epics:

The two great Hindu epics are the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. The Mahabharata is a sprawling history of India’s ancient dynasties’ struggle with one another for land and power. It also explains most of Hinduism’s major gods and goddesses. It has been said that everything worth knowing is found within its pages, including the stand-alone portion called the Bhagavad Gita. The Ramayana is more intimate in its scope, primarily following Rama and his small band of devotees in their quest to rescue his wife, Sita. These sacred texts are the cultural foundation of India and the Hindu mythology.

Bhagavad Gita
Various translations 

If you have the time and the interest, it would be amazing to dig into the juiciness of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. I would love to, but I think I’m being realistic in saying that I don’t see myself getting through these texts in this lifetime. (As it stands now, I already don’t have time to read what I want to read.)  I do, however, hope to find time this year to reread the Bhagavad Gita. I had to read the Bhagavad Gita as a freshman in college, and it’ll be a different book now that I’ll be looking at it from an Ashtanga yoga perspective.

Ramayana: Divine Loophole
Sanjay Patel

I literally just saw this book when finding links for the book of Patel’s that I do have, The Little Book of Hindu Deities (description in the section above). On the strength of that book, I’m going to recommend this book, sight unseen. Here’s the Amazon.com review: “Teeming with powerful deities, love-struck monsters, flying monkey gods, magic weapons, demon armies, and divine love, Ramayana tells the story of Rama, a god-turned-prince, and his quest to rescue his wife Sita after she is kidnapped by a demon king. This illustrated tale features over 100 colorful full-spread illustrations, a detailed pictorial glossary of the cast of characters who make up the epic tale, and sketches of the work in progress. From princesses in peril to gripping battles, scheming royals, and hordes of bloodthirsty demons, Ramayana is the ultimate adventure story presented with an unforgettably modern touch.” I’m going to pick this book up soon — can’t wait to see how it unfolds.

>>If you are so inclined, you can buy all of these using your own Amazon.com account through the YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique. 😉

A closer look at Nataraja

The photo at the top of this post is of Nataraja, Lord of the Dance. Nataraja is yet another incarnation of Shiva. Perhaps more than any other deity, Shiva is the one I am most enthralled by — his ashen face, matted hair, his proclivity to disappear to the mountains to meditate for hundreds of years, his stamina to make love for hundreds of years (remember, the gods have a different time reference than the rest of us do), his equanimity, his temper. Shiva creates through the act of destruction. He is a study in contrasts — and most of us can relate to dichotomies. It’s particularly the case for me — on so many levels, dualities and contrasts mark my life and my personality.

MC Yogi has an awesome song about Ganesh called “Son of Shiva.” To understand the son you have to understand the father, so this song is a fun way to learn more about Shiva too. My favorite part talks about Shiva returning from his deep meditation on Mount Kailash:

it was at that time when Shiva returned
not knowing that his wife recently gave birth
when Shiva saw the boy he told him to move
but not knowing who his father was the boy refused
now Shiva’s like this, truth consciousness and bliss
but he’s crazy when he’s angry so don’t get him pissed
feeling dissed and dismissed Shiva started a rumble
an epic struggle that shook the jungle
then out of nowhere Shiva’s trident went chop
and that’s when the boy’s head was cut off

Oops.

But all is not lost. Buy the album if you don’t already have it, and listen to the rest of the story.

There’s much more to know about Shiva (another blog post!) and so much more to know about his particular incarnation as Nataraja. Why is does Nataraja appear with four arms and one leg lifted? And what is that creature he appears to be standing on? See how two Ashtangis, Tim Miller and Michael Gannon, interpret this powerful symbol:

Tim Miller on Nataraja

I remember first reading Tim Miller’s “The Alchemy of Yoga” essay while staying at a hotel in Columbus, Ohio. (It’s always interesting to find a spark of inspiration while away from home, staying alone in a hotel.)  In this quick-read essay, Timji — as his students like to refer to him — talks about how he believes “Nataraja, the King of Dancers, beautifully symbolizes the alchemy of Ashtanga yoga.”

Michael Gannon on Nataraja

Michael Gannon, who uses social media heavily, just posted this link to his recent talk on Shiva about 16 hours ago. In “Shiva Comes to Town,” Gannon does a lovely job of sharing how he uses the symbolism of Nataraja as destroyer to make sense of, accept, and move on from personal and even global tragedies. It’s 26 minutes long. If you’re like me and have a crazy schedule and the attention span of a tweet, let me tell you that it’s worth taking the time to listen. Play it while you’re waiting for coffee to brew, or as your’e whittling down your work email inbox.

I titled this post “Dancing with the Deities (A Not-So-Epic Overview)” because — while it’s rather long (probably too long) for a blog post — it hardly skims the surface of these rich stories. Take advantage of some of the labors of love listed here — whether you’re more into the iconized depictions as in The Little Book of Hindu Deities or into the kind of thoughtful, historical perspective you’ll find in Gregor Maehle’s book. Keep searching and uncover sweet wells of tales not listed here. More than anything, I hope you continue to get on your mat and find inspiration for your practice, and through your practice, however you can.

Photos (from top)
Nataraja: Photo of Nataraja statue, taken at The Yoga Sutra (a New York City yoga studio), May 2011
Aum: Aum at Hilltop Yoga’s Old Town 2 studio in Lansing, Mich., May 2011

>>If you are so inclined, you can buy all the books referenced in this book using your own Amazon.com account through the YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique. 😉 


© 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.

When a tweet deserves to be a blog post too (when it has to do with a live webcast of a led primary class by Sharath)

What I tweeted tonight from my @rose101 account:

Calling all #Ashtanga yoga practitioners! Live stream of a led primary by Sharath April 8 & 15 http://bit.ly/ga3Jot (via @claudiayoga)

I just found out about this 20 minutes or so. So it’s past 1:30 a.m. and this would start in less than five hours. It’s been a long day. I have a very long day ahead (one ending with the beginning of the annual Tim Miller workshop at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio!).

And yet, of course, I am so tempted to set that alarm for a ridiculously early hour…

© 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.

What my salsa teacher wants my hips to do

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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.

Music for the people — via their yoga mats

Gaiam audio yoga mat

It's a mat. It's a speaker. Too bad it can't give you a massage too.

I was at Best Buy yesterday looking for a birthday present and walked past a short aisle full of yoga and Pilates equipment. A boxed mat by Gaiam caught my eye because it was billed as a audio mat.

What?

My first thought was that maybe this mat spoke to you every now and then. “Breathe.” “Send your shoulder blades away from your ears.” “Inhale, reach tall. Exhale, fold forward.”

I stepped closer to the box — not too close, though, because this whole talking yoga mat thing seemed a little creepy to me — and had reason for relief. Turned out this mat doesn’t actually talk to you, because that would be pretty creepy. What makes it an audio mat is that  you can connect an mp3 player to a little speaker that’s built in.

From Gaiam.com:

Find bliss at home or on the road with this first-of-its-kind Audio Yoga Mat. Designed with a small built-in speaker so you can work out or meditate while listening to your MP3 player or iPod® player. Or download our free instructional yoga program featuring world-renowned yoga expert Rodney Yee as he takes you through an at-home private yoga session. It is like having your own personal yoga instructor in the privacy of your home or when on the road.

What do you think?

My reactionary response to this mat was, “Seriously? Is this how commercialized yoga has become? Does anyone need a built-in speaker in their yoga mat?” But the practice of yoga is supposed us to teach us to be less reactionary, so that’s what this blog post is attempting to do. Am I missing something about the usefulness of this mat? Are there people whose practice would be helped by being able to pipe in music or an audio yoga class? I am open to hearing arguments in favor of this mat.

Seeing this mat made me think about the yoga of music or the music of yoga, depending on how you think about it. I’ll be the first to tell you that I love music. The sounds that come from a Radiohead song, for example, massage my brain and spirit in a way that nothing else in this world can (not even yoga).

Yoga and music is a murkier issue for me. I usually enjoy vinyasa (flow-style) yoga classes where music is played — even if it’s not necessarily music that I like. (I specifically say vinyasa classes because I’m more of a traditionalist when it comes to Ashtanga classes, and prefer to not have music.) I feel as if I get some energy from the beat and the passion coming through the speakers. When the music that’s played is music I like, the energy boost can be helpful to the practice. Music can turn a heavy class into a light-heartened one.

Yet as a teacher, I’ve opted to not use music in my classes. For one thing, I don’t want to assume that my music tastes would work for everyone. If I were to play music, it would probably be albums by artists like Krishna Das and Annie Pace because I’d want to avoid songs in English where a student’s attention might be taken away by the lyrics.

Basically, I am in the school of thought that the music and rhythm found in a yoga class comes from the breath of those who are practicing. And from the Sanskrit counts of a led Ashtanga class: “Ekam, inhale. Dwi, exhale. Trini, inhale.” (“One, inhale. Two, exhale.”)

Yeah, those Sanskrit counts are something else. They massage my brain in a way that nothing else in this world could. Not even Radiohead.

(Photo credit: Bestbuy.com)

More from YogaRose.net:

>>”How do you turn the world right-side up?” — my post about Radiohead.

>>”Vande gurūṇāṃ caraṇāravinde” — my post about chanting and Madonna.


More evidence that Ashtanga yoga is for me: Sharath is a Mac user!

My MacBook Pro and the Ashtanga practice sheet featuring R. Sharath Jois

Claudia
over at ClaudiaYoga.com is in Mysore right now, and I’m loving her blog posts and tweets about her experience. For the non-Ashtangis reading this blog, it’s necessary to know that Mysore — which is located in the southern Indian state of Karnataka — is to the Ashtanga devotee what Asbury Park, N.J. is to Springsteen fans or Cooperstown, N.Y., is to baseball fans. It is the place that you are drawn to and know that you have to visit before you die. (I haven’t been yet, and the place is calling me — but more on that in another post.)

I could make this post longer than necessary, but I’m not going to because I want you to head over and read Claudia’s observations and tales. But before I go, I will say one thing: Claudia has reported that R. Sharath Jois — who is the grandson of the late K. Patthabhi Jois and the new director of the  Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Instituteuses a Mac.

As if I needed more evidence that Ashtanga is for me. 😉

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.

‘Rarely do we clench just one thing.’

 

X-ray of a mouth

Clenched teeth, clenched mind?

Pattabhi Jois apparently used to say, “Clenched toes, clenched mind.” Especially in standing balancing postures such as utthita hasta padangustasana (extended hand-to-big-toe posture), the toes of our grounded foot may be clawing into our mats without us realizing it — as if digging in will help us balance. It’s quite the opposite, right? It takes strength to believe that letting go of a tightening action will be liberating. It takes strength to trust that if we let go of what we believe is anchoring us, another source of stability — a more genuine source of stability — will present itself.

In his beautiful book The Heart of Yoga, T.K.V. Desikachar tells us:

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra describes an asana as having two important qualities: sthira and sukha. Sthira is steadiness and alertness. Sukha refers to the ability to remain comfortable in a posture. Both qualities should be present to the same degree when practicing any posture. (p. 17)

Whether we’re dealing with a career or personal passions, family or friendships, there are times when nothing could be harder to achieve than this feeling of sthira sukha. What seems to happen far more frequently than the perfect balance between strength and surrender is tightening up or drilling down.

Hilltop Yoga owner Hilaire Lockwood has for years worked on helping me release the tension in my shoulders and trapezius, the muscle starting at the base of the occipital bone. Even after an adjustment, when I think I have let go, she points out how much more I have held on to, and coaxes my body and mind to let go of just a little more. (For the record, I also clench my butt in postures such as setu bandha (bridge posture).) During very stressful times, my muscles tighten so much I worry if they’ll ever loosen again. But even during less stressful times of my life, those muscles are so trained that they don’t seem to ever truly release. I’m pretty sure it will take still more years for me to relinquish the hold I have over my holds.

I was recently telling Sue Forbes, co-owner of Mindful Movement and Physical Therapy in East Lansing, about all my clenching habits. It’s not shoulders or the gluteus maximus we’re talking about here. I recounted how, at 31, I was told I had so eroded my gums through grinding my teeth that I had the gums of someone twice my age, which required surgery to graft tissue to my gums. (The surgery is about as fun as it sounds.) Sue smiled and nodded. “Rarely do we clench just one thing,” she said.

Yoga is premised on the concept that there is a natural and profound connection between the body, mind and spirit. The clenching that we habitualize — is it only physical? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body. We use the body as a way to still the fluctuations of the mind and to tap into what keeps our spirit going. I find it fascinating to start with the clenching I feel in my own body and work inward. Can I trace the tightening of this part of my body to a particular work project that I’m stressed about? Or maybe I can follow the tracing the other way — if I let go of a particular memory about a past relationship, what, if anything, might let go in my body?

And what about beliefs? Is that a type of clenching? The Ashtanga series present posture after posture that seem impossible when we first start to practice. But we learn, over time, that through the guidance of an experienced teacher and through consistent practice, we eventually melt into those postures when the time is right.

Maybe telling yourself, “I’ll never be able to do this posture” is just another form of clenching. If that’s the case, consistently practicing Ashtanga can be considered a counterpose of sorts — what we do to counterbalance a previous pose in order to bring the body, mind and spirit into balance.

(Photo credit: The Full Wiki)

A 2011 yoga calendar that reminds us what this path is truly about

 

AYC fundraising yoga calendar

2011 Ashtanga Yoga Center calendar

 

I had the good fortune to study with study with Tim Miller at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (AYC), his studio in southern California, this summer. One of the very cool people I met during my two weeks in Encinitas, Calif., was long-time AYC teacher Rich McGowan. Rich would often provide the drumbeat — heartbeat is how I think back on it — to our satsang sessions.

Rich attended most of the teacher training sessions during the first week, offering guidance, answering questions and bringing even more lightness into the room through his humor. (On a personal note, he helped me tremendously with my marichyasana D.)

Our teacher training group was sad to learn that, by the second week, Rich’s health had taken a turn for the worse. He was unable to complete the second week of teacher training.

Rich continues to face serious health challenges, and the wonderfully tight-knit and compassionate AYC community has pulled together for a couple different fundraisers. Even if you’ve never met Rich — even if you don’t practice yoga — you can contribute to his medical expenses while receiving a gorgeous 2011 calendar.

You can view some of the photos that are part of the calendar at sriBhagavati’s photostream.

All proceeds of this $18 calendar go directly to Rich (if, like me, you don’t live near AYC, you’ll pay just a couple dollars more and it’ll be shipped to you). The calendar is the work of Lorna Moy-Masaki (graphic art) and Michelle Haymoz (design concept and photography). Michelle took this photo of me with Tim Miller that I will always cherish.

Why do we practice yoga? Is it solely for ourselves?

We become devoted to the practice not just because of what it does for us as individuals, but for the orbit we get pulled into — an orbit full of  interesting, generous, compassionate and talented people without whom life just wouldn’t be the same. You can call it a sangha, a community, a family, or whichever term speaks most to you. I look at this calendar and each page is a beautiful reminder of beauty itself.

>>UPDATE: Read this post where I show you how the calendar doubles as a yoga flip book as well!

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)

[VIDEO] Three Questions ~~ featuring Doug Swenson

Doug Swenson workshop at Hilltop Yoga

Doug Swenson adjusts my parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle)

Doug Swenson spent this past weekend at Hilltop Yoga, offering workshops that touched on everything from the importance of cross-training to kriyas (internal cleaning techniques such as nauli). Doug began his study of yoga in 1969 — the year the Beatles recorded Abbey Road —  and travels the world teaching a unique blend of yoga that draws heavily from Ashtanga but weaves together different styles and influences.

The Old Town studio was packed for each of the three-hour sessions, which began with a discussion and led into a two-hour practice. The Grand River-facing windows quickly steamed up for each session, which stayed light thanks to Doug’s humor and laid-back style.

After the last workshop on Sunday, I asked Doug if he would be willing to spend a few minutes to video Three Questions, a new occasional series with yoga teachers and practitioners. Doug generously said yes.

Why is cross-training in yoga important?

How can someone begin a cross-training regiment?

How does a larger community benefit when individuals practice yoga?

Doug is constantly in motion, traveling internationally to give workshops. Check out his schedule.

How do you turn the world right-side-up again?

Sirsasana in padmasanaLong day.

Come to think of it, long week. Long month! I’ve been working evenings and weekends for…I don’t even want to count the weeks.

When the pressure is this high, when the work deadlines are this intense, when life likes to keeps throwing challenges your way — how do you keep grounded? I do yoga — especially the grounding practice of Ashtanga primary series. And I turn even more to the music that keeps me grounded.

Lately Iggy Pop, Arcade Fire, Gorillaz and MC Yogi have been in heavy rotation. (Never heard of MC Yogi? What I first learned about Ganesh — the mythical remover of obstacles — I learned from this very cool musician and ashtangi. If it’s the name that’s getting to you, get over it and check him out.)

Again and again, though, I return to Radiohead. Much like the way sun salutations start to melt the tensions of a day away, a Radiohead song can massage my brain like almost nothing else.

Yesterday was the birthday of Radiohead lead singer Thom Yorke, and tonight I played Amnesiac, the most fitting soundtrack for today. “Like Spinning Plates” is one of my top 5 Radiohead songs, maybe it has something to do with how it was recorded. This overview comes from a most outstanding fan site:

“Thom sung the backwards melody. It was recorded forward then listened to backwards and he did the phrasing so as to create backward sounding words but its sung forwards.” Upside down/backwards.”

To me, the posture that most parallels how this song feels is sirsasana (headstand). In Ashtanga, we find inversions during the finishing postures, when we come up into sirsasana A (with hands clasps on the mat) and sirsasana B (with your legs parallel to the ground). There are seven headstands in second series. There is nothing like standing on your head and voluntarily coming into an upside-down space to help set the world right again. Going upside and backwards to set the world straight — how very yogic and how very rock-n-roll.

Jois Yoga

Joisyoga.comOK Ashtangis — in case you missed it, there’s a new website for Jois Yoga. The website explains: “Based on the teachings of Sri K Pattahbi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, JOIS is a living legacy featuring a collection of Yoga Shalas and Apparel Worldwide.”

In an earlier post, I mentioned news of this month’s grand opening of the Jois Yoga Shala in Encinitas, Calif. Now we know more about the founder of the shala, and about future plans — which include additional shalas opening up worldwide, along with an apparel line.  

I don’t know — it’s hard for me to picture an official Jois-family-approved line of clothing, along with what will essentially be a chain of shalas around the world. On the other hand, it’s too easy to question whether this is a positive development for the global sangha of Ashtanga practitioners, and I don’t want to set up false dichotomies of good-versus-bad, traditional-versus-modern, homegrown-versus-commercialized. If nothing else, yoga teaches us to be less reactive in our daily lives — to not jump to conclusions or let preconceived notions lead the way.

And without a doubt, new shalas and a new line of dedicated clothing will only increase Ashtanga’s profile, attracting more people to try this practice for the first time and deepening others into their current practice through having greater worldwide accessibility to teachers steeped in the Ashtanga tradition.  

But for me, it is surprising, to say the least, to see these developments and learn about what’s in the works. I’d love to hear what practitioners think about these announcements and plans.

When a full moon is more than just a full moon

Today is fast coming to a close, so I better post this before midnight strikes! July 25, 2010 is a full moon day – one of the traditional days of rest observed by Ashtanga practitioners. Read why here.

But it’s not just any full moon. I learned from Tim Miller that the full moon of July is an occasion in Indian to celebrate the spiritual teacher — Guru Purnima. The late Pattabhi Jois was born on this day in 1915, and out west in California, Tim held a Guru Purnima satsang this evening at the Ashtanga Yoga Center. I would have loved to have been there physically, but I was there in spirit for what was surely a joyous event.

So no matter when you happen to be reading this post, and no matter if you practice Ashtanga or not, why not take a moment to honor those who have helped you discover something — about yourself, yoga, life, love, or anything else that has made a difference to you. Especially in our moments of darkness, simply remembering those who have shared light and lightness can become a valuable lesson in and of itself.

Ashtanga news round-up

Guruji

Guruji

A fair amount of news involving the late Pattabhi Jois and his family:

  • Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students – a new book on Guruji’s legacy — has just been released. The excerpts I’ve seen have been inspiring, and I can’t wait to read it. You can find it on Ashtanga.com and Amazon.
  • The grand opening of the Jois Yoga Shala in Encinitas, Calif., will be held next month.
  • Saraswathi Rangaswamy, Pattabhi Jois’ daughter, will be holding led and Mysore classes at Ashtanga Yoga New York in New York Sept. 8 – 12, 2010.

This reminds me that I need to start playing the lottery so I can get to workshops like these – and, eventually, to Mysore.

Ashtanga = boot camp?

As I write this, the third-most e-mailed story on The New York Times’ website is an article that hasn’t even appeared in the print edition yet. “The Yoga Mogul,” a profile of Anusara founder John Friend, will come out in this weekend’s Sunday magazine. It’s a fairly interesting piece that makes you think about whether yogic principles and business objectives can peacefully coexist without diluting the authenticity of this ancient practice (a meaty issue that deserves another blog post down the road).

What I’m going to focus on here is this section of the piece:

Like many other small-stakes subcultures — the world of poetry, or academia, say — yoga has become embroiled in head-of-a-pin type arguments. In yoga’s case it centers on authenticity. The fight over whether it is a spiritual or a physical practice has raged virtually since its inception, but now in the United States this question has been tinted with issues of competition, status and sweat. People who favor the demanding flow of Ashtanga yoga, for instance, might scoff at those who practice Iyengar yoga, which is slow-moving but stresses proper placement of the body in the poses. (Think of boot camp versus a classical ballet lesson.)

I think it’s unfortunate that as yoga becomes more popular, Ashtanga’s reputation grows – a reputation for being the style of yoga geared toward super fit, Type-A personalities. How many people out there have already shied away from trying the practice because they were turned off by what they had heard? The Sunday Times has a circulation of 1.4 million, so the potential reach of just this particular Ashtanga-as-boot-camp image is extensive.

Yes, Ashtanga is challenging. But yoga, in the most general sense, is challenging – it’s a practice that demands mindfulness, intention and honesty. And there is nothing easy in that.

Earlier this week, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Dealing with a low-back injury and post-surgery recovery, she told me that she’s starting to integrate more Ashtanga classes into her schedule because the primary series allows her to move at a slower pace and compassionately return to her asana practice.

Ashtanga is a deeply grounding practice that’s designed to detoxify the body, mind and spirit, and to bring us into balance. We can approach the practice in a hard, confrontational way by treating the asanas as a string of poses to be conquered – Hey, look at my Marichyasana D! Do you know how long it took to perfect this? – or we can approach the practice from a softer space in which we seek to flow with grace.

I think the best way to show people that Ashtanga is not the boot camp of yoga styles is to – well, show people. Show them through example, through how we experience and express our own practices, and encourage them to try the practice for themselves.

Gratitude

I should be sleeping right now, given that I have to be up by 5 a.m. to make the 6 a.m. pranayama circle with Tim Miller and his students. But I’m full of so much good energy that I can’t settle down to sleep just yet.

Tomorrow we head into the last five days of this Ashtanga teacher training program — and I am already sad to think about it coming to an end. The past week has been tremendous. Tim, who has been practicing Ashtanga for more than 32 years, brings a real-deal brand of wisdom — a wisdom born of experience — along with an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge, absolute devotion to the Ashtanga yoga system, and a deep well of compassion for his students. It is inspiring to just be in the same room with him. To be taking his teacher training — all I can think about is the concept of gratitude.

Gratitude for all my yoga teachers whose guidance have ultimately led me to this point. Gratitude for Tim Miller. Gratitude for my friends and family members who have always encouraged me to keep moving forward on this yogic path. Even gratitude for all the stressful jobs I’ve had over the years — jobs that drained me so much that I had to go in search of some sort of antidote, some sort of a release from it.

Last week during an afternoon discussion, Tim said that gratitude primes the pump for grace. I love that concept but haven’t had time yet to think more about it. Maybe I’ll address the concept of grace in another blog post.

On a related note, if I were back home in Michigan, I would have taught my 7 p.m. Ashtanga class tonight. I realized around 6:30 that I really missed my students, and I wanted to be there to see their smiles and hear their laughter and see where they’ve improved and what might be challenging them most this week. So there’s also gratitude for students, who give me even more reason to seek out the great yogic masters of our time and learn from them.

It seems that everywhere I turn, I see something else to express gratitude for — and of course, I’m grateful for that!

So, where do you think the experience of gratitude leads us?

I'm always grateful when I make it into adho mukha vrksasana

Looking for something that isn’t here

So here I am, writing my first post for this new blog. I think it’s rather fitting for the theme of this website that the default WordPress post I wrote over said:

Not Found.

Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.

I’ve spent a lot of time, especially lately, thinking about what I have and haven’t found through my yoga practice. (I’ve put some of those thoughts into the about me section.) I’m not sure the list of what I have found through my yoga practice ends — like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going.

When you first come to the mat, you are so cognizant of how much self-healing there is to do, and how much potential yoga has to help you in that healing process. The longer you practice, the more cognizant you are that you want to share this others. You start sharing first by just being a more balanced person, perhaps someone who is less reactive to challenging people or situations. Then you start to wonder if the way to share your passion is to teach yoga, so that others can find their own way.

Then, if you are me, you wonder if you should start a blog to share resources. I’m always trying to connect resources to the right people — an e-mail here, a verbal fyi there (for example, ashtangis, did you know that Tim Miller – who I describe as being a Jedi master in yoga garb — will be in Chicago this weekend at YogaView? Last I checked, there is still room).

Through this site, all I really want to do is share (probably mostly about Ashtanga, simply because that is my true love when it comes to yoga, and what I’m focused on right now). It might be logistical, like a reminder to Hilltop Yoga students about when the studio will be closed (the evenings of Father’s Day and July Fourth are the next two evening closures this summer). It might be a recommendation (I’m currently enjoying Gregor Maehle’s new book in the intermediate series). Or it might be questions, thoughts or a story. And it would be very cool if the sharing goes both ways — let me know about your latest insight or recommendation.

urdvha