About this blog’s new header

New blog header July 31, 2012

From left to right, one set of triple gems in my life.

Ganesha centerpiece

Inspiration

Ganesha is the lord of thresholds and new beginnings, and here you have a Ganesha puja spoon purchased in 2010 from the Ashtanga Yoga Center in Carlsbad, Calif., and a Ganesha murti gifted to me and my husband when we moved into our new house in 2012. They’re both resting on top of a stone tray given to me by my sister Alisa. I’ve been waiting for years to find the perfect use for this tray, and I finally have.

The tray is the centerpiece of my new yoga room, and below it are the blue-and-gold Thai sashes I wore in May for a marriage blessing at Dhammasala, a Thai Theravada forest monastery in, of all places, Perry, Mich. My mom and dad bought the Thai outfit for me, and my sisters meticulously pinned all the pieces of the outfit for the short ceremony. The sashes are there, in short, because objects from my family are important to me. My parents and my two sisters, along with my husband, embody the qualities I want to nurture in myself — kindness, patience and generosity. The yogic system encourages humans to see the divine in all things; I’m not there yet. But I can always find a type of divine inspiration in the radiant spirit of my loving and wise family members.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Teachings and teachers

This photo was taken by Michelle Haymoz, a photographer based in Encinitas, Calif., who always seems to capture the most striking and compelling aspects of the human spirit. Luckily for the yoga world, she enjoys turning her lens to the practice. Here, she used her camera for photos of the summer 2010 primary series teacher training led by Tim Miller. Tim has a loyal, worldwide following — he’s the kind of teacher students uproot their lives for, to be close enough to study with him — and is the first American certified to teach Ashtanga vinyasa yoga. I first met Tim at a workshop in Columbus, Ohio, in April 2010, and within five minutes of being in his presence, I knew I had to make the trek to his studio some day (which I did, at the urging of my now-husband, later that same year). Tim has a gift for synthesizing the Yoga Sutras and the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice — a gift for mapping the yogic principles contained in the 196 aphorisms of the sutras to foundational elements of the Ashtanga practice. The powerful sense of equanimity he conveys is, in and of itself, instructive.

I’m in the foreground in padmasana wearing a custom spinning ring I bought myself in 2009, when the beginning of a shift started to take place. That shift was from a perspective of fitting yoga into your life to fitting your life into your yoga, and it really started when I decided to deepen my sporadic Ashtanga practice (the product of living in areas of the country lacking Ashtanga teachers) by taking a 200-hour vinyasa-based teacher training program with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I had absolutely no desire to teach yoga at the time, but I was drawn to the possibility of what I could learn from Hilaire, who is a pistol of a woman with a passion for offering students the level of challenge they need in their practice to start to make discoveries about themselves. She did exactly what she promised she would do during that teacher training and a subsequent 500-hour training I took with her in 2010 — she opened doors for further exploration, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

Inside the ring was etched, “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and while I’m still sad about it, I decided against ordering a replacement. I saw the loss as a way to remain detached to the physical object while internalizing the spirit of the ring’s meaning to me.

Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.

Community

This is a photo of the Stone Arch in Saline, Mich. — a church that’s been beautifully converted into an event space — taken mid-morning during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor summer retreat, just after the Mysore practice time ended. The energy inside the main space of the Stone Arch was tremendously calm during the practice — and if you’ve ever practiced in this style, you know there is nothing quite like a Mysore room and the pulsing of the rhythmic breath of your fellow practitioners. The work being done on each of the 30 or so mats was so individual, and yet so communal.

Angela Jamison, who has been building AY: A2 since moving to Michigan a few short years ago, invests deeply in helping her students find their individual paths, and she also works to strengthen the Ashtanga community by connecting practitioners from different areas — whether it’s different parts of Michigan or different parts of the world.These AY:A2 retreats are, much like events such as the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, tremendous opportunities to bring more people who are interested in the eight limbs of the practice into your orbit.

I met Angela in person in 2011, after returning from an important (in that shedding kind of way) trip to Mt. Shasta. While I wish I had met her years ago, it was also the perfect time for our paths to cross. Thanks to her teaching, and her guidance by example, I’ve been able to integrate many threads of a more yogic life. These threads — such as practicing six days a week and finding ways to let go of deeply seated emotions — were threads that I would start to braid, but they would unravel for one reason or another. Often, it was work demands. Sometimes, it was simply life. Others, for reasons I can’t understand even now.

I’ve been told the first part of my last name, “Tantra,” means “to weave” in Sanskrit. My three-and-a-half-decade journey has shown me that it helps to have a lot of help in this enterprise of weaving strands of your life together. Triangulation with a triple gem. I started out my career with a vague sense that I wanted to tell people’s stories, so I went into journalism. I had a love/hate relationship with the field — it was like playing the right song in the wrong pitch. (Now, as a communications professional, I work for clients who need their story told.)

I started this blog in the summer of 2010, when my life was more or less on track, but in a pretty different place — a much more unsettled, frazzled and searching place. To the extent that I can, I’m sharing my own stories, as they come. You won’t find an enlightened yogi in these posts, because it’s two steps forward, three steps back for me. But if you follow the trajectory of the blog, you might see that the thread of the Ashtanga yoga method has been working wonders in slow and unpredictable ways. A decade and a half after I started out trying to tell everyone else’s story, I’ve come to realize that perhaps all these journalists, poets and novelists were right: You have to write what you know.

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

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: 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.