‘Sahana Vavatu’ shanti mantra, assisted dropbacks — and trust

Assisted backbends

Since learning “Sahana Vavatu” — one of the “shanti,” or peace, mantras — during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Xinalani retreat, I’ve found it can provide a space of solace that I can return to at any time. Because I find it powerful, beautiful and deeply reassuring, I’ve used it as a talisman, going over it in my mind in situations in which I am struggling with uncertainty, doubt or anxiety. There are times I recite it quietly to myself simply because I want to connect with its meaning and its meditative qualities. And I like to chant it as I’m nearing the end of my hour-long drive to the yoga shala in the dark of the early morning.

There’s also something else about this chant. For me, “Sahaha Vavatu” forms the perfect soundtrack to a Mysore room’s sacred student-teacher bonding ritual of assisted backbends.

Behind the chant

Here is one exploration of the chant:

In many schools, the Sahana Vavatu is recited before the asana practice. These schools include the Sivananda and the Satyananda schools, as well as most of the traditional ashrams such as the Kaivalya Dhama of Lonavla and the Shantiniketan of Rishikesh.

ॐ सहना ववतु। सहनौ भुनक्तु
सह वीर्यं करवावहै
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु
मा विद्विषावहै॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Om sahana vavatu sahano bhunaktu
Saha viryam karavavahai
Tejasvi navaditamastu
Ma vidvishavahai
Om shantih shantih shantih.

Om. May He protect us both (teacher and student). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the Scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other. Om peace, peace, peace.

This invocation is found in several Upanishads among which the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is probably the most famous after the Gayatri. As a shanti mantra, it advocates peace between student and teacher, encouraging both of them to study and to practice yoga, without mentioning any particular god or any particular book.

Like ashtanga’s opening and closing mantras, every translation reads a little differently. I am drawn to this translation’s juiciness — the idea of studying vigorously and working together with great energy:

Om may he protect us both together, may he nourish us both together
May we work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective,
May we not mutually dispute
Om let there be peace in me
Let there be peace in my environment
Let there be peace in the forces that act on me
Om peace peace peace.

I like the straight-forwardness of this recitation of the chant by Lakshmish Bhat, recorded at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore (it’s the second chant in). And I might as well admit here that given how much time I’ve spent in yoga workshops of various stripes, it’s surprising to me that I was never taught this chant before this year. It’s not exactly hard to find; here is Ravi Shankar’s take.

Finally, here is commentary on the mantra by author and scholar A.G. Mohan, a student of Krishnamacharya.

Assisted dropbacks

There are many invigorating and reassuring aspects of practicing in a Mysore room, from the undulation of the room’s collective breathing to the consistency of joining a group of people in showing up to the same space day after day to practice.

One of my favorite aspects of a Mysore practice — versus a home practice or the led ashtanga environment that was my first exposure to ashtanga — is the time for assisted dropbacks before you begin your finishing poses.

It’s hard for me to believe now, but I didn’t officially switch from a mostly home-based practice to mostly practicing in a Mysore setting until about six months ago, when I committed to making the drive from Lansing to Ann Arbor at least three days a week. These days, it’s become just another part of my day to make the two-hour-round-trip-drive before heading in to work a few weekdays a week and to make the drive on weekends too, but it was a big deal for me to make the lifestyle changes I needed to make to get up at that early hour even three days a week.

For me, having the opportunity to work on assisted dropbacks was an integral part of settling into a Mysore groove. I still remember the transition of my teacher having me learn to walk my hands toward my feet in urdvha dhanurasana to one day walking my hands in far enough that my hands could be gently placed around my ankles. To step back from the process, it seems like the most unnatural thing to be doing at the crack of the dawn (or really at any time of day). Staying present in the moment, however, it feels like the most natural thing to do after reaching the pose you’ve been stopped at. What I love about assisted backbends is not just that they provide a gorgeous example of how a teacher can coax a student to going farther than she ever thought possible — it’s that I get to start my day out with a ritual built on absolute trust in another human being and absolute surrender to being in the moment. It’s harder to walk through the world questioning the intentions of people around you when you started the day out in the radiance of someone who, without a doubt, has your best interest at heart, and it’s harder to go through your day resisting things you can’t control when you have already let go so deeply.

What does it mean to approach life from a heart-centered place? That answer differs for each of us, but for me, starting out the day with assisted dropbacks helps prime me for greater receptivity.

Grabbing your what?

If you’ve never seen this very ashtanga practice, Kino MacGregor shows it in her video on chakra bandhasana, the formal name for grabbing your ankles:

In my experience, deep backbending with an experienced teacher means the difference between a safe, strong and effortless backbend versus one that comes from a place of overcompensation or recruiting flexibility from another part of the body. I have a pretty mobile low back, so had it not been for Angela Jamison teaching me how to stand strong in my legs, I would probably have eventually been flexible enough to grab my ankles even if I didn’t have the safest technique — and then I’d be unnecessarily taking the brunt of it in my low back. (Learning how to stand strong in my legs — I could do a whole post on just what that says about my relationship with myself in this world.)

More on trust

A few months ago, Kaz posted an awesomely candid post titled “Trust” on her Realizing Mysore blog. She talked about how, halfway through her month assisting Sharath in Mysore, she struggled with assisting students in grabbing their ankles during assisted dropbacks:

A couple of days later, I am still dodging students with flexible backs. And I decide to get up the courage to speak to Sharath, hoping for guidance, moral support–if you practice with this man, you probably know where this is going…

“Hi Sharath, um…so…I’m kind of afraid to take people to their ankles.”

He looks at me and says matter-a-factly, “I know.” He knows!

“Ahhhh…” I wait for some advice, encouragement, anything, but there is only awkward silence before he walks off to back bend someone himself.

Hokay… So much for feedback from the boss. In my optimism, I think he’s leaving it to me to figure out on my own. It’s not the first time. Last, year I struggled with a new posture. There was no feedback. No assistance, not even with back bending. At some point, I felt very alone as I muddled through the emotions that came up from it. By the end, however, the “personal time” was good for me. I learned a lot from it.

In practice, Sharath knows when to help and when to back off. I believe it’s one of his superpowers of perception. I’m going to read his acknowledgement paired with lack of input in this particular instance as a sign that he trusts me to figure it out myself.

I know it isn’t about strength. I’m dropping back guys much bigger than my petite Asian self. I understand the technique, more or less. I’m familiar with the ankle routine in my own practice. But I lack confidence. There is fear there…

Sharath’s right to leave me on my own. My fear is my responsibility. I know that I can’t continue to be afraid. I’m only halfway through the month of assisting and will not be able to avoid dropping back someone bendy enough for ankles. At some point I will be caught edging away from open backs, though Sharath probably sees my slipperiness already, probably smells the fear across the room. Most importantly, I just want to get on with it, I want to be totally present as I assist, and this fearfulness is getting in the way.

I look at my own practice. I ask myself, how am I at going to my own ankles? I can manage with more ease with Sharath helping me, but it is difficult when I am being assisted by someone else other than him, always stiffer somehow, a little less sure. I realize that I wasn’t always “successful” (for the lack of a better word) with assistants. It didn’t add up.

Maybe it’s easier with Sharath because I trust him so much. But what cause do I have to mistrust the assistants? Something in me stiffens when they are before me as I come up from backbend. Perhaps, it isn’t them at all, but rather something in me. Do I trust myself in this process? Or am I relying on Sharath’s magic touch to make what I still thought impossible possible? Did my mind create the conditions that made the fear difficult with others?

How can I expect others to trust me, if I myself had a hard time trusting? How can I ask someone to surrender to me, if I can’t manage surrendering myself?

Eventually, there is a breakthrough:

Then, one morning, I’m standing in front of a female practitioner who comes up from urdhva dhanurasana. She says something and all I catch is “ankles.” Here we go.

Something definitely shifts. I’m calm. And things go smoothly as we both do our part. I trust myself. And what’s more, I trust her. I reckon she trusts me too. With the breath–both of us breathing together–she extends the spine and arches back. It’s so fast and at the same time so beautifully slow. For me, it is an amazing moment of synchronicity and surrender between two people that don’t know each other.

I reach for one wrist and then the other. There is no forcing, only a little guidance. And there in that place of trust, I find a sweet balance between being able to support her and also stepping out of the way, allowing her to reach.

I realize then that with this ankle grabbing business, I’m not supposed to do all the work. I’m support crew. People generally don’t go there unless they can and the real task is not up to me really but in the heart of the practitioner finding space to go the extra distance. And for those making that first leap into this strange territory, Sharath’s usually there, guiding them towards their feet.

By the end, I ceased running from ankle grabbing. But I didn’t chase it either. If I was called, I would do, trusting in the process of practice, trusting in the abilities of the student, and trusting in myself. With more confidence, it all worked out fine–thank goodness!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether I’m helping people to their ankles or not, whether we’re grabbing ankles or even dropping back on our own. What matters is that the practice cultivates the courage to go beyond, to see past the fears and the limitations of our own mind, and that it refines our ability to trust, trust in others as much as trust in ourselves.

Holding space

I’ve actually started this post a few times in my head since returning from the retreat, but it never seemed the right time to actually get these thoughts out. It’s interesting that I’m inspired to finally write this during a week my teacher is gone from the shala. She is on a silent meditation retreat several states away, and while I knew I’d miss her this week, I was surprised at how much I’ve still felt her presence in the Mysore room, and in my own practice, this past week.

Angela has told our group of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor apprentices that our job is to hold space. It’s not to adjust, though of course we provide a lot of adjustments. Our fundamental job in a Mysore space is to hold that space for students and their practices. We breathe with each student individually, and we breathe with the room collectively. To hold space, we need to be present, receptive, grounded, and heart-centered.

The balance that Kaz talks about in her blog post on trust — the balance of supporting a student while also leaving enough room to step out of the way so the student can reach — seems fundamental to holding space.

Your job is to hold space. It was such a simple and yet revolutionary idea the first time I heard it, and I think I’ve been able to feel the magnitude of this powerful concept so intensely this week precisely because Angela’s been gone. She has held space so consistently, so honestly, and so firmly, for her students who arrive every day at the Phoenix Center on Main Street in Ann Arbor’s vibrant downtown that even when she’s gone, her influence is palpable. It’s palpable in the way her students approach practice, and it’s palpable in the way her apprentices approach students. When the shala’s amazing senior apprentice, Rachel, comes by for assisted dropbacks while Angela is away, I feel the same envelope of support from her — and I hope she feels the same trust I have in her. I have this belief that when space is held as consistently and transparently as it is held in this shala, trust — the kind that’s earned and deserved — can become contagious.

So for me, an extension of the “Sahana Vavatu” mantra is that once the bond of the teacher-student relationship has been established, the lessons can expand and continue even if the teacher and the student aren’t in the same physical space. In consistently heading to the Mysore room to step on my mat, I have been consistently stepping into a space of self-discovery that has been held for me. I am realizing that as I live my life, I can actively choose to expand that space of learning and insight beyond the Mysore room. That space can, if I set my intentions with clarity, be expanded exponentially — to include just about my entire universe.


About the photos at the top of the post: I had thoughts about this theme of trust even before I went to the Xinalani retreat in Mexico, which is why I asked Angela if she’d be willing to take some photos with me to illustrate assisted backbends. She kindly said yes, and we held a short and sweet photo shoot in the yoga retreat’s distinctive Jungle Studio (so short and sweet that, without the benefit of a practice first, I definitely wasn’t going into any ankle-grabbing!). Thanks to the handy camera work of my friends Tim and Jade, I’ll always have the photos at the top of this post as visual mementos of this aspect of the sacred student-teacher relationship that means so much to me.

© 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

Kino MacGregor making news in the Ashtanga world — why is this not surprising?

Kino MacGregor on ElephantJournal.com

I ate two meals at my desk today and barely got up from my chair over the course of eight hours  — headphones on because I had so much to finish that I needed laser focus — and yet I still managed to learn about Kino MacGregor’s new piece in elephantyoga.com (while managing a client’s Facebook account, I saw the share in my newsfeed):

People love and hate me. I am, after much deliberation, okay with that.

I’m a bad Ashtangi.

I wear small shorts and mascara. I’m not a natural blonde. I color my hair and blow dry it, even while in India. I’m also vain and I love beautiful and sometimes expensive things. I’ve been called an Ashtanga cheerleader, a slutty yoga teacher (I’m married), a good businesswoman (as if that’s a derogatory term for a yoga teacher) and a sell-out for fame and fortune. I’ve lost really important friendships and hurt the people I love the most through the delusion of blind ambition. I am far from perfect, most likely more flawed than most.

In the mad rush to success I have produced five Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, written two books, started a line of yoga products, filmed online yoga classes, taught in over 100 different cities all over the world, co-founded a yoga center on Miami Beach (Miami Life Center) and founded Miami Yoga Magazine. I’ve figured out how to use social media and build an online presence, dare I say my own “brand.” I tweet, blog, vlog and film for my YouTube channel.

For all these reasons I am, as Guruji used to say, a “bad lady.”

But I’m also a good Ashtangi. I practice six days a week and follow the guidelines for practice as best I can from my teachers, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and R. Sharath Jois in Mysore. I go back to Mysore to continue my studies and be a student at least once a year. I follow the simple vegetarian diet that my teachers recommend. I do my best to be self-reflective in everything I do, I try (not always successfully) to be a nice person all the time.

I work hard at everything I do, take nothing for granted and am above nothing. I am thankful every day for my students, both the real people in my classes and the real people watching my videos and reading my books at home. I wasn’t strong or patient when I started the practice, and yoga has taught me both strength and patience. You can only push so hard before you break—I’ve learned that all the rest of success in both yoga and life you have to receive through grace and surrender.

So maybe I’m also a little bit good.

Some people would say that what I do is all in the interest of building my own personal yoga empire, in the aggrandizement of my ego. To them I am something akin to the Kim Kardashian of the yoga world.

But to myself, I hope I’m more like Oprah Winfrey. I would love to take the message of yoga to millions of people, because I believe in the power of yoga to transform the world. Someone once asked me,

“If you knew you could reach a billion people with the message of yoga and half would hate you and half would you love you, would you still do it?”

Yes, for sure.

I honestly, perhaps naively, believe that if every person in the world practiced yoga it would be a better place. I would personally like to be a vehicle of inspiration for people to practice yoga, and if having some people hate me is a price I pay for putting my message out there, then I am strong enough to pay that price. At the same time, I admit that I am not as saintly as that sounds. I enjoy seeing myself in videos, on the covers of my books and I like seeing the results of my efforts. I also like that my husband and I can make a good living doing something we love and believe in. While I wouldn’t say that I’m proud of what I’ve done, I do feel a sense of self-confidence that comes from the real world experience of accomplishing some of my dreams.

It’s hardly surprising that Kino MacGregor has managed to become the focus of a lot of attention — she is brilliant at that, and she explains in this piece why she is so driven.

I only had time to take a quick glance earlier today. Now that I am home, I just read it through, even though I should be finishing up the work I need to email out by tomorrow morning. My first reaction, though, is that I can’t wait to get back on my mat. I used to love Ashtanga yoga gossip. OK, I still do — but I think I will probably be in a better place to reflect on this after practicing tomorrow morning. There’s a lot of fodder for juicy considerations here — a nexus of a low-fi yoga method rooted in India (nothing glitzy or sexy about the silent transmission of the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system) as experienced in a highly visual age of digital marketing, social media promotion and unapologetic entrepreneurship (all of which swirl in a sphere where you can find lots of glitz and sex).

Hilltop Yoga, where I teach one Ashtanga class each week, put this up on its Facebook page tonight:

We couldn’t be more excited for Kino’s visit to Hilltop this coming April. As you can tell from this article, she’ll have a wealth of knowledge and perspective to share with all in attendance. We are honored to be hosting a yogi who is both real and in the world, while still honoring her lineage and the tradition of this practice. Registration details coming soon. You won’t want to miss this!

My second reaction is that I give Kino props for laying it all out there the way that she did. She sounds sincere in saying:

Let me say that I have the utmost respect for teachers who teach an under-the-radar Mysore program early in the morning with little advertising and get their students through the power of their own dedication and word of mouth. You rock! I love each of you for your humility, your quiet strength and the un-sung heroism of your work.

I, however, am not one of you. It’s not my path. It’s not that I want more, I want different. I want to be the ambassador of yoga in the “public” sphere. I want to share the message of yoga, authentic real, lineage based yoga, with as many people as possible. I want to be a bridge between the average person and the authentic experience that I’ve known in India with my teachers and the Ashtanga Yoga method.

I work in the marketing communications world now and I think a lot about how effective use of social media can help spread yoga. And yet part of me wonders whether an Oprah-like figure can transmit the heart of this type of lineage authentically.

And in the next instant, I wonder if that is even a relevant question.

The Confluence Countdown, by the way, offers up this:

This is sure to dominate Ashtanga blogs and more than a few studios in the days ahead. What I imagine will be even more exciting will come after her planned arrival in Mysore next week.

We aren’t going to add to that chatter. The main reason is that we don’t know Kino MacGregor. Like any Ashtanga practitioner who doesn’t live in an Internet-less cave, we know of her. (We have always heard more positive than negative, but we have heard the negatives she addresses.) But nothing more. And so we can’t and won’t judge whether we think she’s being honest, whether she is serving the Ashtanga tradition faithfully or if one can be a good yogi and color her hair. (I’m kidding. We don’t think that matters.) We will continue to look forward to her coming to Los Angeles this spring so we can meet and can learn from her. Probably like anyone else, once we have spent a weekend workshop with her, we will reach some kind of basic judgement about her.

Steve instead returns to a past I’ve found interesting and have long wanted to blog about (though the thoughts are still simmering on this one): the “controversy” in the 1990s over then-up-and-coming style of power yoga versus Ashtanga yoga.

I would say more, but work really does call. I have a fair amount of work left to do tonight, and tomorrow is another early morning. I suppose being a householder has its advantages: I have to stay focused on what needs to get done, or something — either practice or work — gets thrown out of balance. (Otherwise, I’d be staying up late thinking about this some more and checking to see what ashtangis are saying over social media and on blogs.)

Making your living through Ashtanga yoga does seem like a fantasy to me, but the need for Kino to share this brutally honest piece reminds you that living the dream can come with a price; there are some weighty decisions you get to avoid when that door is closed.

© 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.

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

Practice (Obama's Hope version)

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

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

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

Kino #yogisforobama tweet

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

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

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

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

WWKD? WWSKPJD? Q.E.D.

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

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

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

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

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

Over at YogaBrains, Derek Beres wrote today:

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

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

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

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

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

Related links:

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

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

Tuesday morning to-do list: Ekam, practice. Dve, vote!

Yoga culture taboo, or sign of the times?

I’m impressed by the amount of in-your-face, get-off-your-asana, get-out-the-vote activism that yogis backing President Barack Obama have been demonstrating of late. Four quick examples out of a ton I could have chosen from:

  • This weekend, when I was in Columbus, Ohio, for a Richard Freeman workshop (more on that rich experience in blog posts later in the week), I ran into a friend and local yoga teacher. Wearing an Obama T-shirt, she told me she would only be staying for the first day because she had to canvass all weekend. And I remembered back to this spring —  when I last saw her during Tim Miller’s workshop at Yoga on High — about how excited she had told me she was for this November visit. Yoga matters, but so do politics — and she chose to hit the pavement rather than step on her mat for a workshop with a premier senior Ashtanga teacher.
  • A yoga studio in California whose e-newsletter I receive sent this short dispatch last week: “In support of our privilege and duty to vote and as part of the YOGA VOTES effort we are offering free classes all day Election Day Tuesday 11/6/2012. Just sign in! Thats it! Dedicate your practice to our future. Thank you!” We know it’s not easy running a financially sustainable yoga studio, so for Willow Glen Yoga in San Jose, Calif., to give up proceeds from a full day of classes is an excellent show of support for the importance of the process.
  • Yogis have also taken to Twitter, my favorite of the social networking platforms. See the trending #yogisforobama hashtag. Kino MacGregor has been tweeting pro-Obama political tweets for at least a few months (that’s just based on what I’ve caught here and there — she tweets so much that there’s no way I could always be on top of it), including reminding folks back when the deadline to register to vote was coming up.
  • The yoga blogophere seems to be heating up recently. Check out “Yogis Stand Up and Endorse Obama” on YogaBrains, take a look at this recap from YogaDork, and read this post from Neal Pollack, who writes, “Yoga doesn’t dictate that you become an apolitical idiot. You need to use discernment and intelligence and follow the right political path based on your most deeply-held values.”

Viveka — this is all a form of the discernment that we cultivate while on the mat, right? Why would we cultivate these skills through our yoga practice and then not exercise our right to act based on them?

Normally, this is the kind of post I would avoid writing. I have one foot in the political world through my public relations job, and I try to keep politics out of this space. But . . . well, I don’t think I’ll be sleeping too soundly tonight. Despite Nate Silver’s statistics-based optimism — currently, that Obama has a high chance of winning — it’s close enough, and I am concerned enough, and the stakes are high enough, that I decided I should.

>>LINK: Have you seen the What the Fuck Has Obama Done So Far website? 

Not 100 percent happy with Obama? Angela Jamison addresses that:

We are evolving politically. The expansion of the rights of citizenship is inevitable; the expansion of the definition of the human scope of responsibility (from tribe, to nation, to species, to planet) is inevitable. Unless we stall, take too many steps backwards, and thus all kill ourselves first. Obama is about 50 years ahead of Romney when it comes to the political enlightenment process. So you are another 50 years ahead of Obama. Duh. We need you to be. Don’t hate him for not expressing your exact values. If he did, he would never have gotten this far.

I work in Michigan’s state capital, and a fair amount of my work intersects with politics (not to mention that a few years ago, I worked in the belly of the political beast itself). I’ve seen how hard it is for any legislation to get passed. Think everyone wants to protect puppies? Think again. Unless you’ve worked in the political system, you have no idea how many deals have to be cut for anything — even the seemingly most mundane or obvious things — to move forward. The fact that Obama was able to get the Affordable Care Act (ACA) through still sort of astounds me.

>>LINK: Your Election Eve moment of zen: Replay of the infamous Mitt Romney 47 percent video

Yes, there are a lot of smoke and mirrors in our two-party political system. Yes, there’s a ton of BS. Yes, there’s a ton of power-grabbing and power-hungry people. But no, it is not the case that who is in elected office doesn’t matter. No, it’s not true that in the end, everyone wants the same thing and all will be well, which I’ve been hearing a few yogis say in recent weeks. As anyone who has been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition — an injustice the ACA, which critics love to call Obamacare, has dealt with — can tell you, that’s not the case.

In the first verse of the Ashtanga closing prayer, we say:

“May all be well with mankind.
May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Tomorrow in the United States, we have a chance to do more than channel good vibrations about responsible leaders.

(Photo credit: Obama T-shirt for sale on Cafe Press.)

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


 

 

 

 

 

Got injuries? Reimagining the Ashtanga practice to help injuries heal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Freeman has also recently addressed injuries on his blog:

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Mysore Magic screenshot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kino MacGregor’s struggles

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

Kino MacGregor

Kino MacGregor screenshot via KinoYoga.com

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

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

Fourth Estate

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

You are not alone, ashtangi

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

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

Checking out the film

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy

Fertility necklace with stones such as rainbow moonstone, believed by some to enhance fertility

Fertility necklace

Lots of pregnancy talk/thoughts in my world of late:

  • I have two friends who are both roughly 36 weeks pregnant, and they’re tracking progress on Facebook. It’a amazing how the human body accommodates change (like, in the case of one friend, twins).
  • One of my sisters recently sent me a beautiful fertility necklace containing a mix of stones such as rainbow moonstone, and on a recent call, she very helpfully started to tell me about a fertility app her friend used. “No app!” I protested. “The necklace will do just fine. :-)”
  • In searching for something else earlier today, I randomly stumbled over a new segment on Kino MacGregor’s YouTube channel in which she says to look out for a few new videos she’ll soon be dropping that featuring a Miami Life Center teacher, Alexandra Santos, at 34 weeks pregnant:

My interest in Ashtanga and pregnancy was piqued a couple years ago when a friend who had gotten pregnant asked me if I knew of any good resources for pregnant ashtangis. As with most everything, a qualified teacher is the best resource. Beyond that, in looking into some resources for her, I was surprised at how few “official” sources there were out there.

It’ll be interesting to see what content Kino releases soon.

A little consensus, a lot of lack of consensus

I haven’t spent a ton of time pouring over online resources for Ashtanga yoga and pregnancy, but what I have read through tells me that a few points seem to enjoy a fair amount of consensus: Women should avoid twists, jump-backs and poses that involve being on the belly. And if there is one overriding mantra about Ashtanga and pregnancy, it’s this: Listen to your body. Everyone seems to agree that it’s imperative for a woman to listen to her body (makes sense!) and follow her intuition (agreed!).

When it comes to specifics, it seems to me that the advice can start to diverge quite a bit. I am particularly fascinated at the moment by the debate over whether ashtangis should practice in the first trimester.

On whether to practice during the first trimester:

“All women are different and react differently with the pregnancy in the beginning. Some are very tired and feel nauseous, and vomit, others are feeling well. It is best to not do the practice during the three first months to see how the pregnancy is going. Even if you feel strong and healthy it is good to let the body rest because so many things are changing in the body during this time. For some it might take a little ‘will-power’ to slow down though.” —Interview with Saraswathi Rangaswamy

“The decision to practice yoga during the first trimester is an individual matter. Since this is an article about Ashtanga Yoga practice, it must be emphasized that Sri K. Pattabhi Jois advises women not to practice Ashtanga Yoga at all during the first trimester. This advice makes particular sense if one has experienced a miscarriage or when high-risk pregnancy factors are present. Since one generally does not know whether a pregnancy is high-risk until second trimester or later, it is advisable to take a conservative approach to one’s practice, beginning with the first trimester.” –“Ashtanga Yoga Practice During Pregnancy” article by Betty Lai on Ashtanga.com

“It is not wise to begin any new vigorous activity if newly pregnant. The first trimester of pregnancy is particularly more delicate. If however the activity is well established by making the appropriate adjustments one may continue a modified version for the duration of the pregnancy.” —David Swenson and Shelley Washington on Ashtanga.net

“Take rest from all asana practice during your first trimester. It is a very sensitive time for you and your baby. Your body is going through deep changes to adjust to the new life inside, and make a ‘home’ for him or her.” — from Ashtanga Yoga Victoria.

“Many women find it feels most natural and comfortable to avoid practicing any Yoga-asana at all during the first trimester of pregnancy. It is generally recommended by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Sharath Rangaswamy NOT to practice Ashtanga Yoga during your first trimester.” —Ashtanga Yoga Canada

“During pregnancy, it is okay to feel warm and to sweat while practicing, however, especially in the first trimester, it is very important not to let your body reach and remain at 102 degrees or above for any sustained length of time. If you have any doubts, stop and rest. Let your body’s signals guide you, if you feel short of breath, dizzy or nauseous, then you may be too warm.” —Ashtanga Yoga New Orleans

“Miscarriages are natural and devastatingly common whether you do everything by the book or not. I can understand why people look for answers as to why miscarriages happen. All the reasons I have heard about why they occur from other people (she ran, she twisted, she jumped, she fell) seem to be trained on limiting the mother’s mobility and blaming her for whatever might go wrong. I decided to practice for the rest of my first trimester, but only because I felt like it. David [Robson] told me to stick to standing series for the remaining 6 weeks I had in my first trimester. In India, I don’t think Sharath would teach a pregnant woman for the first 3 months but that makes sense to me because he wouldn’t have a chance to have a regular and sustained teaching relationship with anyone because of his schedule. I did standing for a few days, but I wasn’t sick or nauseous and I felt better moving than sitting around. So after two days, I asked David in the car before Mysore if I could do the rest of primary. A week later, my backbends were still feeling good, and I asked if I could add on dropbacks, and that was OK too. The week after that I added on some intermediate, and David crouched down beside me in the room and said, ‘Umm. No. Just wait until 12 weeks.’” —Stan Byrne, from her blog, Miss Stan

“The whole advice battlefield had its biggest impact when I took a teacher’s advice to not practice during the first trimester. By my second day off, it was clear that my body wasn’t a fan of that idea at all. I started to get morning sickness, which I hadn’t had before, and generally felt pretty awful. After seeing the doctor, and getting the all clear, I resumed practicing, and started feeling better right away. The morning sickness never returned….The best advice I got at this stage was from my doctor and from reading an article about Nancy Gilgoff’s comments about Ashtanga while pregnant. The doctor basically chuckled at the idea that I was heeding any advice given by non-doctors. She told me my number one job during the pregnancy was to train like I was going to run a marathon – labor was going take as much work as running 26 miles, and being in good physical shape would be crucial. The best yoga specific advice was to keep doing whatever I was comfortable doing before the pregnancy, but also listening and modifying as needed as my body changed as the baby grew.” —Wendy Spies

“PREGNANCY. Absolutely fine for women who already have an established ashtanga practice to continue all through pregnancy (obviously with much modification in the later stages, although Nancy says she had a student who practiced third series into the ninth month). Wait three months after birth before resuming ashtanga practice. Not a good idea for pregnant women who haven’t done yoga before to start with ashtanga – fine to start with other forms of yoga practice.” –One practitioner’s paraphrasing of a 2002 workshop with Nancy Gilgoff.

And those are just thoughts specific to one topic. Inversions could take up another post entirely.

Here’s a video of a nine-months-pregnant Rhonda Green (apparently she gives birth three days after this video was shot) practicing Ashtanga:

And then, after pregnancy, there’s the “fourth trimester.”

There are Bhakti babies, toddlers in Mysore and more kids heading to Mysore. I’m sure the diversity of opinions there is as interesting as the diversity of thoughts surrounding the first trimester.

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

 

 

Is Ashtanga’s third series the new second series?

I feel as if I’ve been seeing more references to third series lately. Specifically:

  • Earlier today, Kino MacGregor started promoting her new third series DVD through tweets and a guest blog post.
  • It was recently announced that Tim Miller is changing up the focus of his three-day intensive during his annual April visit to Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio. The first day of the April 2012 intensive will focus on primary series (Yoga Chikitsa), the second on second series (Nadi Shodhana), and the third on third series (Sthira Bhaga).
  • Hilltop Yoga here in Lansing, Mich., has just put on its schedule a new Sunday class “where students practice primary, second or third series Ashtanga at their own pace.”

I’ve seen Sthira Bhaga translated as “divine stability,” “divine steadinessandstrength and grace.” (I’m partial to the “divine stability” translation myself.) And I have practiced next to third series practitioners. It is awe-inspiring — perhaps less because of the poses themselves (oh, those leg-behind-the-head variations!) but, as the Sanskrit name of the series indicates, the fact that someone could flow with such a sense of calm through such seemingly daunting poses.

Before I link to photos of the series, I want to put this in context for students new to Ashtanga or for those who don’t practice yoga (long-time Ashtanga practitioners know this through experience already) — looking at the photos alone is taking the practice totally out of context. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a compassionate practice for the body — traditionally, you only begin to practice a pose after you have an established practice in the one before it. So it’s not for gymnasts and contortionists. When you see photos of someone in a crazy-looking pose, what you’re looking at is the current incarnation of years of commitment to the practice.

With that lead-in, here are some photos of third series.

After dinner one night during his Mt. Shasta second series retreat last year, Tim Miller was talking to a few students and the question of third series came up. I remember hearing Tim describe the series this way — in terms of the gunas. (If you’re not familiar with the concept of gunas, the simplest definition of gunas I’ve seen comes from T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga: “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe.”) Primary series is like tamas (heaviness, inertia), second like rajas (activity, change), and third like sattva (clarity, lightness). I’m looking forward to hearing more in April in Columbus.

Here is what MacGregor says about her DVD:

I created my new DVD of the Third Series of Ashtanga Yoga in response to the increasing number of Advanced students practicing Ashtanga Yoga today. I also wanted to share what is for me my most personal journey, my most intimate struggle and now my most consistent daily practice.

She’s not the first to offer an instructional DVD on third series. David Swenson, to the best of my knowledge, was the first to do so, back when we all stilled watched VHS tapes. You can now get Swenson instructional program on a DVD.

It seems to me that Ashtanga students used to talk about second series the way they’re talking about third series now — something a little intimidating, a little exhilarating, and a little out of reach. With more and more students practicing second series these days, it makes sense that third is next. MacGregor writes:

The practice of the Ashtanga Yoga Third Series is not something to be taken lightly or to play around with.

It is a devotional practice that burns through some of the deepest blockages that exist in the human mind and body. It is a practice that contains the essence of Ashtanga Yoga and one not to be taken for granted.

This is what she believes is the first prerequisite for third series:

First you must have a committed six day a week practice of the full Intermediate Series and have been practicing for around five years. That practice should be done smoothly and effortlessly so that when you finish you have more energy to give. The key gateway postures of Second Series should ideally be well-established.

Here’s my question, though. Will Ashtanga practitioners start jumping the gun now that a popular teacher has released a DVD? I’m pretty sure the cybershala can’t provide the wisdom, guidance, feedback and inspiration needed to fully appreciate, understand and experience the third series (or primary or second, for that matter).

I wrote about my qualms when students leapfrog over primary and head straight to second a while back, and I wonder if something similar could start happening with third series. There’s a big difference between doing the Ashtanga sequence and adhering to the Ashtanga method.  

(Photo credit: New <3 necklace via Bekathwia’s Flickr’s photostream.)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fine print:

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

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

Brand spanking new, handmade herbal eye pillow by Jade Sims

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

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

 

 

 

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


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

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

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

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

The description of this video offers a more succinct answer:

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

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

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

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

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

Noose for the ego

Ganesh is the 'wielder of the noose'

 

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

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

What a beautiful way to put it.

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

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

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

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