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

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

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

First, the analogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashtanga Yoga + Social Media Grid

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

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

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

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

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

Slammed. 

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

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

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

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

Have I mentioned that reentry is hard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related post:

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

(Photo credit: “Pool” by zanzibar, via Flickr Creative Commons.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The yoga ‘staycation’

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

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

One-gas-tank getaway

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

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

Converging where powerful streams of influence come together

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

Ask a fellow yogi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Alisa’s Happy World)

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

‘A thousand little freedoms that we accomplish each day’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photo credit: By Evaporation Blues)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kudos!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wide-mouth-guppy

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

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

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

Clinging

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

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

The dunk

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

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

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

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

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

Testing new waters

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

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

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

Guppies, yoga-style

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: “Big mouth guppy” by Alice Chaos via Flickr Creative Commons)

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

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

YogaRose.net Explainer Wordle

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

What is a vinyasa?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the rest of it Ashtanga yoga?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YogaRose.net Explainer takes on P90X Yoga X

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

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

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

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

P90X Yoga X includes

What Tony says about it in the DVD

YogaRose.net’s thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~

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

YogaRose.net turns 1

It just occurred to me that YogaRose.net turns the ripe age of 1 today. It was on June 1, 2010 that I sat down, picked my WordPress.com URL (would love to transform this home to a .org one of these days when I have more time), secured the domain name, picked a theme and created my pages on Ashtanga resources and all that good stuff.

At the end of a yoga class, saying “Namaste” has come to be a typical acknowledgement of those who have shared the practice with you.

Translated many different ways, one of my favorite ways to think about this Sanskrit word is, “The creative spirit in me honors the creative spirit in you.”

In that spirit, thanks to everyone who has stumbled over to my little online space to glance, read, share and support. It has been deeply gratifying — and plain old fun — so far.

Namaste.

Do your summer travel plans include a yoga workshop?

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

Urdvha dhanurasana

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

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

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

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

Happy traveling!

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

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

Tittibhasana B

I hate this posture.

Let me rephrase. I loathe this posture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eka pada sirsasana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique now open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the posture?

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

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

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

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

How do you get into the posture?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be the yoga teacher and adjust my warrior pose!

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

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

And yet my warrior posture still looks like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An airplane’s flight and an ashtangi’s float

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flying brings more challenges every day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirror, mirror…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What my salsa teacher wants my hips to do

Featured

Salsa dress

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

But this is salsa, and it looks fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Music for the people — via their yoga mats

Gaiam audio yoga mat

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

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

What?

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

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

From Gaiam.com:

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

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Bestbuy.com)

More from YogaRose.net:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

‘Rarely do we clench just one thing.’

 

X-ray of a mouth

Clenched teeth, clenched mind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: The Full Wiki)

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

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

Madonna--in a bit of a bind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[VIDEO] Three Questions ~~ featuring Doug Swenson

Doug Swenson workshop at Hilltop Yoga

Doug Swenson adjusts my parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle)

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

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

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

Why is cross-training in yoga important?

How can someone begin a cross-training regiment?

How does a larger community benefit when individuals practice yoga?

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

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

Sirsasana in padmasanaLong day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ashtanga = boot camp?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baseball’s most yogic figure (hint: it’s not Bud Selig)

During my drive to Chicago tonight (for a Tim Miller second series workshop at Yogaview — woo-hoo!), I was getting all upset again over the perfect game that was stolen from Armando Galarraga. True Detroit Tigers fan will wonder, “you mean you stopped getting upset since last night?” Well, not really. But work was such madness today that I didn’t have time to think about Jim Joyce’s tragic call. And  then after work, I took a much-needed Ashtanga class with Misty, and didn’t think about baseball then.

But on this drive, the rage started stirring again. I realized that Galarraga has to be the most yogic figure in baseball. He has to be. Who else could have had a perfect game stolen from him and then merely smiled and prepped his next pitch?

First, the game: for Galarraga to have pitched the perfect game (and he did, no matter what the official baseball records say), he needed to still his mind (yoga is defined as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind) and to maintain dharana — single-pointed focus — which is one of the eight limbs of yoga.

How he handled the blown call blew me away. A true Zen master.

Unbelievable that a man could have that much acceptance and detachment from the outcome of the situation. Simply unbelievable.

Santa Monica-based yoga instructor (and former ashtangi) Bryan Kest says that calmness is a muscle. I love that concept. I tend to be a very reactive person. Something happens, I immediately assume the worst — or at least I am running down five other scenarios that will play out because of this event. But in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that pain that has not yet come is avoidable. In other words, not overreact.

I am getting less reactive over time, but only because of my near-daily yoga practice and the powerfully calming effects of a colleague of mine (a man who has had more of an influence on me than he will ever know). This colleague fought in the Vietnam War, and that gives him, as you can imagine, a different perspective on life. All the stuff we fret over and sweat — does it really matter?

What does really matter?

Well, in the same position, could I have reacted the way Galaragga did? “Hell no!” would be my immediate response. But there I am, reacting again. If you had asked me this question even two years ago, I would have said no way — my character is so different than his, and I could never display that kind of mettle in that situation (not to mention I’ve never played catch once in my life).

But now that I am trying to live my life along a yogic path, I won’t say never. I still say it’s 99.9 percent unlikely that I would not be breathing fire in that situation. But I do see how it’s possible — how yoga refines our character, enhancing the qualities we want more of and whittling down the qualities we want less of. The process is often a long one — and it’s not linear. Two steps forward, three steps back. But the important thing is that progress is happening, and each time we meet with resistance or challenge, we have the opportunity to be less reactive and more yogic than we were last time.

So Armando: whether or not you practice yoga, thank you for showing us the yogic way.

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig, on the other hand — here’s the man who could have righted a wrong. But I’m not going to go there — because that would not be yogic.