[VIDEO] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next beach reading

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

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


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

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

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

Abacus via Generation X-Ray's Flickr

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

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

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

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

2 a.m. – 3 hours = Not enough

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

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

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

104 weeks x 6 days a week = ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ekam FTW!

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

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

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

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

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

Can I blame Mercury Retrograde for this evening #fail?

 

Yeah, I survived Mercury Retrograde -- but did everyone else who crossed my path?

It has not been a banner evening. I got super angry at a local sushi restaurant over my takeout order. Leaving the restaurant, I got super angry at a guy who obnoxiously cut me off, and on impulse angrily honked my horn at him in protest (I never honk my car horn). Even as I write this post, I’m holding on to some residual frustration.

If I wanted to not take responsibility for this, I would blame Mercury Retrograde, that time when communication simply kind of sucks. Here’s how some random website explains it, for those of you who believe in this kind of thing:

At 07:20 UT (Universal Time) Thursday, November 24th, 2011, Mercury the wise communicator—and universal trickster—turns retrograde at 20°06′ Sagittarius in the sign of the Archer, sending communications, travel, appointments, mail and the www into a general snarlup! The retro period begins some days before the actual turning point (as Mercury slows) and lasts for three weeks or so, until December 14, 2011, when the Winged Messenger reaches his direct station. At this time he halts and begins his return to direct motion through the zodiac.

But I should take responsibility for it and admit that I had control over both situations and decided to roll with my emotions rather than take a step back and put it all in perspective.

I just reread Tim Miller’s blog post on trying to view Mercury Retrograde in a more positive light:

While Mercury is retrograde it is good to give a little more emphasis to the right hemisphere of our brain and not be so obsessed with getting from point A to point B. It’s a time to enjoy the nuances of the journey rather than being fixated on our destination. Our typical way of operating in life is called Pravritti, which means being drawn out of our essential self and into the world. What we would be wise to cultivate during Mercury retrograde is what is called Nivritti, which means returning to the Source. It is, perhaps the best of all times to practice yoga and an especially fruitful time to engage in Swadhyaya (self-inquiry). Traditionally, part of Svadhyaya is reading the great spiritual classics like the Bhagavad Gita, Yoga Sutras, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc., or some other source of inspiration.

I could flip through some sutras or take out my Bhagavad Gita (after all, some people say it is, according to Confluence Countdown, the Gita Jayanthi today, versus yesterday). I think instead, I’ll head over to another source of calm and self-inquiry in my life — some of the new Ashtanga yoga blogs just added to the blogroll. They include (in no particular order:

I know these situations are mine to take control of. That said, I’m looking forward to going to bed tonight, putting an end to today and starting over tomorrow with Tim’s suggestions in mind. Not being obsessed with getting from point A to B…that’s a hard one for me, but I’ll make a renewed effort.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does an instructor need the RYT designation to teach yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.