#FOMO #FOM #FO #F — A post about fear, ashtanga and (attempts at) pregnancy

drop

Born in the year of the dragon, my father sometimes says about me — with a temper to match.

“She’s so chill,” said no one ever about my disposition.

Back when I worked in the high-stress marketing department of a hospital system, a former colleague was stunned when she learned that I enjoyed practicing yoga when I could find the time. “You’re not asking the right question,” I told her. “You can’t ask why yoga doesn’t make me calmer at work. You have to ask what I would be like without it.”

I fell in love with the ashtanga yoga practice somewhere around 1999 or 2000. I practiced only sporadically for the first many years. It took me a very long time to find my ashtanga teacher, but I have been doing the traditional six-day-a-week practice since, and found that it has done wonders in helping me deal with conditions ripe for stress. Take the last two years alone, when I’ve had a miscarriage, a major car accident, a work upheaval, and the launch of my own small business. Amazing people — and my consistent practice — have helped me through every part of those journeys.

And . . . tomorrow is the last day I get to practice for at least three months. I’ll be slinging a hammock of rest over the hot summer months, starting with Tuesday’s new moon. It’s not because I’m pregnant, but because I’ve been trying for just over a year to get pregnant. And it’s not because I have evidence that the change offers a concrete way to increase my chances of getting pregnant.

What am I doing?

***

Last fall, I was practicing second series up to karandavasana. For the past few months, I haven’t even been practicing full primary series. More recently, I’ve been stopping at navasana. My directive, I know, is to not let myself heat up too much as I try to nurture a conducive physical and emotional environment for conception and pregnancy. (As a side note, my ob/gyn says that the silver lining of my miscarriage two years ago is that I know I can conceive. But there is also the thing about being 39 — no one says it’s too late. But . . . even I agree that it feels harder.)

And then something came out of left field. It was explained to me a few weeks ago that there are women who ended up stopping their practice entirely before finally getting pregnant. In the ashtanga world, we hear of women who practice — and hard — up until delivery. We also hear of women who stop for the first trimester. And I think we hear of just about everything in between. But stopping to try to get pregnant was an interesting concept for me to consider. (To be honest, I initially viewed it as nothing short of the nuclear option.) These stories were not offered to me as a “you should,” but as a “you might want to know.” It was also emphasized that this had to be my decision and no one else’s — only I could know what the best course is.

I resisted the idea of it — of course I resisted the notion of not practicing for three months. But I was also intrigued. “Faith is the opposite of certainty,” I was told earlier this year, and the spirit of it has stayed with me.

***

I should admit that I was a tad concerned about writing this post because I didn’t want any other ashtangi trying to get pregnant to look at it and see it as an endorsement one way or another. The more I know about pregnancy and practice, the less I feel qualified to say anything about the relationship of the two. How much to practice? What to practice? When to practice? My answer pretty much goes along these lines these days: “A woman should talk to her teacher and work it out with her teacher, her own observations, and her wisdom about what is best.”

I decided to write this post anyway, but promised myself that I would be very clear in saying that I can’t weigh in on the whole practice-and-pregnancy question beyond simply sharing what is happening with me. This is a koan I am living, and I can’t verbalize any answers that would be satisfying to the intellectual mind.

***

So, last week, I gave serious thought to the idea of stopping practice temporarily and then decided it was not for me. I didn’t make that decision out of a fear of missing out, as the #FOMO hashtag in our culture signals so well. I’ve never been competitive about my practice. I don’t care what I practice to, and I don’t care if I look bad-ass like the yogis on Instagram. And I’m not afraid to lose my community of fellow ashtangis, because I can stay in their energetic orbits without being the shala space.

I told myself that hitting “pause” was not for me because I had not been given enough evidence that there was any benefit to stopping practice outright versus doing half-primary and modifying it any way necessary to ensure I don’t heat up too much. Nothing can guarantee that I will get pregnant, so why deprive myself of my emotional-plus-some regulator?

But two things happened to convince me otherwise. I can’t get into them here, but let’s just say that I try to listen to the universe, and I talked to two very strong and insightful women hours apart who uttered two very short questions that made me reconsider. (One practices ashtanga, and one does not practice yoga at all.)

I went back to my teacher and told her that I had changed my mind, and would be going for what was behind door number 2.

***

This morning, during what I knew would be my second-to-last practice, I started to cry. It has only been post-decision that I have started having a more subtle understanding of what I had been holding on to.

On the long drive home, I cried some more. Sad? Yes. Scared? Yes. Optimistic? Yes. Happy? Yes.

Discovery and liberation come in many forms.

The universe has given me so much in the past two years. But it has asked a tremendous amount from me too, and I have learned, and gained, with every loss. There are people and things and habits and countless other stuff too that we all feel we cannot live without. And if they are taken away, we sometimes realize that we didn’t really need them after all — at least we didn’t need them in quite the way we thought we did.

What percolated as I drove through the rainy, steamy humidity this morning was that I was afraid to give up my practice — for however long; the amount of time is not the point — because I was afraid of who I would be without it. How would I make any big decisions in my life? Would I return to being a stress case? Would I return to being Rose circa 2007, 2005 or 2003? (It seems so obvious to type it out now, but I had been missing that element of sheer fear before.)

Here’s the thing: The very thought of not practicing meant I had to stare down the smoky barrel of the question I had been avoiding all this time.

Who am I without this practice, and why is that person not enough?

Location scouting

I was in Marquette, Michigan, for the Fourth of July holiday this past weekend. It was less scheduled than most of my getaways, which gave me the opportunity to spend time checking out potentially interesting practice spaces.

What I realized during my location scouting in Marquette was how much my attitude had changed toward practicing while traveling. Next month will mark three years since I began practicing six days a week. During my first winter of daily practice, I wanted to plan everything in advance when traveling: What type of space will I have? Will there be heaters? What if there aren’t heaters? Will I have any moon days or rest days during the trip? I wanted conditions as close to ideal as possible.

Now I just take my mat and usually, I find the most conducive, workaday spot. Hotel room, crash space, state park cabin — there’s always a spot with enough room. This weekend, though, having time and the warmth of summer on my side allowed me to have a little fun. Such a treat!

This was where I wanted to practice — a little slab in Marquette’s Lower Harbor, with just enough space for a mat. It actually looked to me like it was designed for a mat. Maybe I’m a little biased, though.

slab

But the morning I could have practiced there, it rained. Even though I’m less into ideal conditions, I wasn’t about to practice in cold rain. :-)

One day, I was hiding in plain site in the courtyard next to the town’s oldest hotel. It was a great spot, made even greater by the incredibly loud noise coming out of the hotel’s generator (or whatever the huge contraption hiding behind that fence was). Pratyhara seemed to arise easily with that wall of sound.

courtyard

My second day of practice, I found the same hotel’s Sky Room, where weddings and other functions are held. It’s a beautiful space on the top floor of the six-floor Landmark Inn, and it overlooks the water.

skyroomfloor

The best part of this space was the ceiling — which, of course, if drishti — our passive gaze that is maintained during practice — is properly kicked on, you’re not supposed to pay attention to. I must admit that I got a kick out of the cherubs, though.

skyroom

I don’t have a photo of what has to be the single most unusual place I’ve ever practiced: the inner sanctum of the one of the Masonic temples in Vancouver, Canada. I went to a David Swenson workshop in 2009 and I’ll never get over the fact that on the final day of the training, we were moved from the normal room that they usual rent out to groups to a room with thrones and portraits. We all knew this was the room where Important and Secretive Matters Are Discussed. And were practicing ashtanga yoga in it. It was — just so damn cool.

How about you? Any particularly interesting or unusual practice spots?

While we’re on this topic — earlier this year, did you catch the inspiring Runways poster from Small Blue Pearls? It features one of my photos, of my mat and rug next to a hotel swimming pool. (Preferences aside, heat does matter, and if heat is an issue — especially in hotels with a proclivity for blasting the A/C — I have found that if there’s a pool room, the extra heat and humid helps.) And have you ever caught what inspired this poster project in the first place? On occasion, you’ll find practice photos — Runways — on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. 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 is the role of led ashtanga classes?

bookbindeknife

Is trying to learn the ashtanga method through led classes a bit like trying to use a paring knife to cube a butternut squash? Pictured here: Persian bookbinder’s paring tool and knife.

I returned to teaching my led primary series class yesterday — it was quite sweet to be back after my hiatus while in India — and it reminded me that I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time. I would have done it after one of the led classes in Mysore, but alas, it never happened.

Here’s the question: What is the role of led, or guided, ashtanga classes? I touched on this a year ago this month when the Mysore SF blog posted this:

Led classes have become very popular and so has its ill reputation (Ashtanga as dangerous, aggressive, knee breaking). I believe it is because many have learned from led classes and were doing the postures they were in no way ready for. Learning in this way is more like learning backwards. All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.

At least in yoga studios in the U.S. that embrace eclectic styles of yoga, the role of led classes seems to be to both learn and practice the method. Part of a class description might go something like this:

Don’t know the entire sequence? Come to class and be guided through each pose with instructions that will include modifications to allow students at all levels to safely practice. 

What you often end up seeing in led classes at studios will be a class with some students who are new to the practice and struggling to get a handle on it and keep up, while others are primary series veterans and flowing like water through the practice. The verbal instructions of the teacher must accommodate the full spectrum, and teachers are left to teach both the state of the poses and the transitions into and out of them.

At a traditional Mysore-style ashtanga yoga shala, it’s rhythmic, and about surrender: To step on your mat and flow through the practice on the vinyasa count presented by your teacher.

Love to take extra breaths getting into the marichyasanas in your daily practice? You get five breaths here. Tend to take shorter breaths in the navasana section? You’ll stay for these five full breaths.

It should be noted, for those who have never experienced it, that in led classes at traditional shalas, you stop at the same pose you stop at in your Mysore practice.

The metronome of the count, combined with tristana, can make for a deep experience of pratyhara. OvO, writing from India, recently put it this way: “Mysore Fridays are a dream within the dream. The will is worn out, as is the body, so you just let the vinyasa carry you through.” It’s hard to even approach letting vinyasas carry you through if you don’t quite have a handle on the poses and yet are trying to get through them at a good clip.

***

The difference between Mysore-style and guided classes was, to me, quite stark while studying at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute last month. The Mysore practice days were electric — being on my mat, surrounded by practitioners from all over the world each doing their practice and having their unique experience. In that special quiet — where the sounds you heard were street noise, the collective breathing, and Sharath or an assistant periodically calling “One more” as space opens up — the conditions were ripe for you to truly be in your practice and maybe even have an epiphany or two.

Led classes? Not so electric — but the value was apparent.

They happened twice a week: Everyone took led primary on Fridays, and on Sundays, there were two led classes for primary series and one led class for intermediate series.

At one of the Sunday conferences, someone asked about bandhas. Sharath started his answer by saying that sometimes people ask him why he holds ut plutihi in led for so long — it is legendary that the space between his count of “one” and “two” seems like eons to Gokulam newbies like me — and he said, “Mula bandha, the best thing is to do ut plutihi.” He added, “Ut plutihi and navasana, very important to bring strength to the waist and help mula and uddiyana bandha get strong.”

It works, too. My teacher often holds navasana in led classes for what seems like three times my count — and going through those counts for all those classes taught me more about the relationship with the bandhas and the low belly and the pose than I would have ever learned if I had kept to my own navasana rhythm. And going through (read: enduring) ut plutihi under Sharath’s counts in January taught me about how far I have to go. 😉

***

So to me, on one level, led class offers quality control and a different approach to letting the practice instruct you.

In India, I saw the value in other ways too.

Everyone’s experience was different, but my experience of led was that the conditions of these classes were more ripe for putting a mirror up to your triggers rather than for getting deep into the poses.

It’s notoriously crowded for led class, and if you didn’t arrive over an hour early to wait, you would definitely have to hustle and sprint to find a space. Even if you did arrive over an hour early to wait, you would still have to hustle and sprint to find a space. (It’s like waiting for doors to open for a Radiohead or Arcade Fire show: No matter how congenial everyone might be, there will be jostling.) This bothered some and didn’t bother others. So while some people were triggered by getting into the room, others were trigged once in: Where you found a space, for instance (maybe there were no spots left in the main room, and you had to practice in the changing room or the foyer; or maybe you got a space, but it was where the rugs overlapped, and you didn’t like that; or maybe you got a space by one of the windows and it was drafty; and so on.)

There are no adjustments in led classes, and some days, because of the crowds, not even time to take rest after practice; Sharath would tell us to go home and take rest. And if you’ve never experienced the minimalism of a traditional led class, know that the verbal instructions really are just counts — no verbal instructions about how to get into the poses or anything like that.

***

In talking to practitioners about how led classes are used versus how they should be used, I’ve likened led classes to a paring knife. Led classes — a slightly misleading term, if you think about it in the Mysore context — were designed with a particular use in mind, but here in the U.S. at least, it seems to be more widely used for something entirely different. We’re trying to use a paring knife to cube a butternut squash. That is hard. Can it be done? That’s how I initially learned it, but as the Mysore SF blog reflected, I do think I had to relearn/unlearn key aspects of the practice when I entered a traditional Mysore room. (What, you ask? Breath was one area. Intuitive to someone who practices Mysore and maybe counterintuitive to someone who doesn’t, when an instructor is telling you when to breathe, the more subtle lessons don’t necessarily sink it.)

So when I see blog posts hand-wringing about whether ashtanga is various iterations of hard or even dangerous, I wonder whether we would have half as many of these online reflections if everyone learned the method through the Mysore system. Yes, ashtanga, no matter how you cut it, is hard. But trying to learn it through a led class environment can turn an already challenging practice into what feels like a sprint, and that can not only cause head trips for practitioners, but potentially set the stage for injuries as well.

***

I will say one quick thing about teaching guided ashtanga classes, which I have done in some form since 2009.

These days, I teach a led primary series class once a week at Hilltop Yoga in Lansing, Mich. What keeps me teaching this class is that I love my students. I love their resolve, their focus, and dedication to refining this practice. Are they learning? Absolutely. I’ve seen so much progress — especially in students I have had consistently for a long time.

But because I only see them once a week (and often not every week, if they don’t come like clockwork), and because it’s a led class, I don’t feel that I can go as far with them or as quickly with them as I could if I saw them in a Mysore environment, where I would be able to get in tune with their unique breath pattern and take more time in adjustments.

For led students I don’t see much at all — and therefore students whose practices and bodies I can’t possibly know as well — I sometimes have to trade potential for progress with security of safety. It’s a trade I wouldn’t trade, because what is most important to me, above all, is that they are physically and emotionally safe in that space. I won’t do deep adjustments if I don’t see a student often enough to know their practice and their body well. And if I’m not their main teacher, I won’t try to change their practice routine, even if I think some tweaks might help them get better in touch with the benefits of certain poses.

So for what it’s worth, what do I see as my role as an instructor? I use my interactions with students in the context of led classes to try to accomplish the following:

  • Maintain a clean and consistent rhythm both for new and advanced students during the class itself. For new students I try to do this compassionately, so that they don’t feel like they’re in a race and so that they don’t feel overwhelmed. For seasoned practitioners, I try to do this to keep them to a rhythm that they might not stay with in their other practices during the week.
  • Inquire about the state of their practice, so that in class, I can adjust as helpfully as possible, and perhaps afterward I can share relevant resources for other aspects of their practice — for instance, if they are working through an injury.
  • Ignite a curiosity about practicing on one’s own.

I frequently mention the benefits of a home or travel practice to my led students. I know that one led class a week can be the start of something life-changing — even if it’s a knife used for a different purpose, it’s still got that cutting edge. But it can only take them so far if it doesn’t lead to more practice, so I try to open that door to practice environments that can take them farther, whether it’s private sessions, home practice or practice while traveling.

So, I’ve just used quite a few words to talk about something that probably doesn’t need to be hashed out to this extent if we were on the mat practicing together. What do you think about led classes?

(Photo credit: Persian Bookbinder’s Paring Tool and Knife via the takomabibelot Flickr photostream) 

 

>>Did you miss the Mysore dispatches?

Mercury retrograde — or a bumpy post-India reintegration?

Lord, help me get through this month. I am trying to reintegrate post-India — DURING MERCURY RETROGRADE. Thank goodness for ashtanga yoga and meditation — or everyone around me would surely politely ask me to start looking for a flight back to India. 😉

My month in Mysore, by the numbers

Total miles flown to get to India: 8,839. And yet somehow, I always felt at home over the course of the month I was in Mysore.

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

Lingua franca
The language of practice. And of sugar. And of awkward good-byes.

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

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

[Mysore dispatch] Lingua franca

bilingual signs in Mysore

Always helpful when a sign around town is bilingual.

Sometimes when someone has tried other forms of yoga and wants a brief explanation of how ashtanga is different, I will talk about how no matter where you go, you can still have your practice – you won’t be dependent on finding a yoga studio as long as you have enough room to roll out a mat. I talk about how you can travel anywhere in the world and if you do find other ashtanga practitioners, you won’t need to speak a common language to be able to unroll your mat next to theirs and share a common practice. And in that way, you will be speaking the common language of this transformative practice.

After all these years of taking my mat with me when I travel, it has been such a treat to have spent the past month in Mysore with ashtanga practitioners from all over the globe. We descend on the Gokulam neighborhood with different cultural backgrounds and different native tongues — my new friends may say “capsicum” and I may say “bell pepper” — but we share a reverence of, and a belief in, the benefits of the ashtanga practice.

Yesterday, I chatted with friends over papaya fruit juices, ginger teas and healthy smoothies that you eat out of a bowl (we hit not just one, but two popular yogi hangouts: Chakra House and Anu’s Cafe). We talked about the corporate world, dharma and teaching yoga, the promise of 2014, how generosity is expressed in different parts of the world, and so many other threads of life. These conversations have created so much of the texture of my time here.

***

Chai with sugar

Chai = friend. Sugar = frenemy.

Back at home, I rarely eat sugar – I don’t keep any in my house, never add it to my drinks and generally only ingest it when I’m eating out and a dish or dessert has had sugar added to it.

For my first three weeks here, I indulged in my chai addiction, and the default chai here is not only addictively good (did I mention I have a chai problem?) – it has sugar to the hilt. I prefer chai without sugar, though. I tried a few times to ask for chai without sugar but got looks that ranged from blank to quizzical.

I finally asked a friend who has been taking classes in Kannada, the local language, how to say “sugar.” She said it’s basically sugar with an Indian accent.

Ah, so that told me that I was misreading those looks. It wasn’t that my words were not being understood. It was that the people I’ve been making this request to just can’t grasp why anyone would want chai without sugar. “But . . . the chai with sugar is right here,” I now understood them to have been saying with their perplexed facial expressions.

So now, I’ve learned to ask for both “chai, no sugar” and “sugarless chai” a few times while simultaneously trying to indicate through awkward body language that I am a sane person despite making this request. It’s been mostly successful, and I’m happy to report that for my final two weeks of my stay, I’ve been able to indulge in chai without sugar. This is good, because I was starting to really feel the effects of sugar on my practice – starting to feel a heaviness set in.
(The bad news is that the caffeine has guaranteed that my pitta levels continue to remain sky-high – but I’m willing to deal with this for a month while I get to be in a place that takes good chai seriously!)

I’ve decided, by the way, that sugar is the ultimate frenemy. I suppose that’s a thought for another blog post.

***

Sharath's office door

Yesterday, I went to Sharath’s office hours to say good-bye to him. I knew it would be awkward. How could it not be? I mean, what could he possibly say to me and what could I possibly say to him that was more meaningful than the energetic exchange that happens during practice?

But officially saying the words “thank you” and “good-bye” were important to me because that’s how I roll, so I went. I wasn’t nervous to meet Sharath or practice under his watchful eyes, but it cracked me up that it turns out I was super nervous to bid him farewell. I had thought about a couple things to say, and instead, as soon I got into his office, I got flustered, muttered a few words about being grateful to have the chance to the come study, slid a card and a small memento across his desk, and basically leapt out of the chair and back out into the foyer (where I realize that I had also forgotten that I was going to ask him to sign his book). I think the entire exchange took about 20 seconds.

It’s the Wednesday morning before January’s third moon day, and I’m off to my last practice with Sharath. I’m looking forward to a silent good-bye this time – the real good-bye. At KPJAYI, here is the way students leave the main shala space when they are done with practice: They wait at the door until they make eye contact with Sharath – usually, he offers a smile or a nod or both – and only then do they step out into the foyer and through the main shala doors to leave.

So I guess what I am trying to say is that if any place can prove that silence speaks volumes, it is this buzzing shala space.

Shala door

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

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

The art and science of surrender (car accident edition)

Grace.jpg

Look at that photo. It’s something else, isn’t it? Somehow, I managed to step right up out of the driver-side door without so much as a cut. I’m saving this photo to my phone and my work desktop as an inspiring memento of three instructive reminders from yesterday’s rollover:

1. While an accident can pin you down, it’s the kindness of strangers that will really floor you.

A woman whom I’ll just call V. hugged me — hugged me tight, wrapping my entire short frame in her radiant maternal embrace — as soon as I stepped out of the car. She hugged me and asked if I was OK for quite some time as other kind strangers offered other ways of help, starting with the cool guy who opened up the car door that allowed me to get out the first place.

I accepted a ride to the hospital for tests because I was most concerned that I felt fine but could have a hairline fracture. I just kept thinking about the angle I stepped out of the car from, and about how many times I had rolled over. (Surprisingly, the air bags did not deploy.) Anyway, the paramedic and his crew? Fantastic in every way. The trauma team that ran a battery of tests to make sure there wasn’t deeper damage? Awesome. (They also thought they were comedians, which I appreciated. They said that had I been wearing Lululemon, they would have spared cutting my clothes. Luckily, I have other panopticon-branded AY:A2 tanks.)

This tank would have been spared the shears in the trauma room 3 if only they had been Lululemon. ;-)

This tank would have been spared the shears in trauma room 3 if only they’d been Lululemon. ;-)

The police officer who showed up? Sweet — down to accommodating my request that when the tow truck show up, he rescue not only my mobile and wallet, but also my Mysore rug (what can I say — it’s a security blanket). He totally came through.

2. You never know.

Really, you never know. So you might as well not sweat the small stuff. (More on this in a bit.)

We all tell ourselves this and I’m convinced we all believe it, deep down. But we tend to believe it most when Big Life Events happen — not during the day-to-day. This helped me recommit big-time to keeping my eyes on the prize as moments as possible every day, not just on days like this.

3. Relaxing, rather than resisting, helps in any kind of situation.

Anyone who has struggled to learn how to go up into a yoga headstand has probably at one time or another heard the instruction to relax while falling out of it.

Let me be clear: I think I wasn’t harmed because of my guardian angels, pure and simple. But, more than 24 hours later, I am still stunned that I walked away untouched, and it was a reminder that the tremendous relaxation you can feel when in something like a multiple-roll spill like this comes in handy. Had I tensed up and locked my arms on the steering wheel, for instance, who knows what might have happened.

As meditation teacher Shinzen Young formulates it:

Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Post-accident, I’m going to take this to heart and not let myself get freaked out about the expense — especially given that it’s coming just ahead of when I’m looking at taking four weeks of unpaid leave to go study in Mysore. I could do the math, or I could look back at the rollover photo and shake my head again at how I was not hurt and no one else was either.

Shinzen offers this related formulation too:

Taste of Purification = Pain x Equanimity

Trying to avoid suffering is one thing. Can I reach this level? That’s a tall order but I think it’s possibly within reach, if it stare at the rollover photo enough. And if that doesn’t work, I can look at my tiny little rental, which somehow makes me laugh. I think my huge Saka cargo mat bag fits in the trunk . . .

Fiat rental

Back to sweating the small stuff

For anyone willing to read past the list portion of this post, I’ll say that the feeling I had yesterday was similar to the feeling I had during the accident I experienced maybe a decade ago now, when a guard rail saved me from going over a mountainside in northern Vermont after I had skid on black ice. The same time-slows-incredibly-dooooown phenomenon happened yesterday when I couldn’t correct out of the median: I quite calmly observed what was happening and figured that one of two things — both out of my control — would happen. I would either die or be severely injured, or I would be protected and would be fine.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t on some level want to work on not sweating the things that don’t matter. To different degrees, we all want to stay out of the fray when it comes to getting worked up over things we know — we know! — just don’t matter in the end. But dammit if the small things just have a tremendous capacity to gnaw, goad, get under the skin. For me, the most recent big little problem that I got truly pissed over just happened this past Friday — and this is at a time in my life when I have learned to surrender more than I ever have.

Equanimity via different paths

In my world informed by the discipline of ashtanga yoga and by meditative technologies, it seems to me that there are three pretty reliable ways to make progress on keeping it together in the face of life’s really annoying agitations:

1. Go through a tough experience.  

This year has been an interesting one. I witnessed my husband in more pain than I had ever seen him, as I watched helplessly in the ER as he tried to pass a kidney stone. I was back in the same hospital’s operating room (OR) not too long after that for my D & C after my miscarriage. I was back yesterday in the ER — with the same nurse who helped my husband! — for the tests to make sure I wasn’t hurt.

2. Get on your mat six days a week to practice a series that at first seems impossible, then seems doable, then eventually seems impossible again, and so on.

As OvO has so eloquently put it, put yourself on the mat to undertake a systemic series of constraints on the ego.

During the ambulance ride to get the tests that would confirm that I am indeed OK, despite what my mental images of the accident scene would have me believe, I was talking to a paramedic-in-training who said, “I’m just not flexible enough to do yoga.” It was a little awkward to talk to this student, with my neck in a restraint and my body secured to a long spine board per standard operating procedures when being taken to a trauma unit (with a rollover at 70 miles per hour, which is what the speed limit is in Michigan, an accident like this one is considered a trauma, even if you can talk and walk and attest you feel fine).

I started to try to explain that that isn’t what yoga is all about, but instead it out something like, “You don’t need to be flexible to start yoga. You gain that flexibility as you go.” Finally, realizing my words were being garbled by the fact that I couldn’t really move my jaw too much, I said, “You should give yoga another shot.”

It wasn’t my most persuasive elevator pitch for yoga, which last year I decided might go along these lines: “Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.” Aka neuroplasticity ftw!

3. Get on a meditation cushion every day

I’m going to give embarrassingly short shrift to this one because I technically should be getting back to dealing with my insurance company. But I’ve been truly amazed at the results this past year of keeping at meditation.

Why meditate?

And a fourth?

In any case, having tried these three paths, I’ve found that each contributes a different type of instruction/reminder, and the lasting effects vary. It does seem like the synergistic effects are most powerful when all three are experienced together.

Interestingly, I had spent the earlier part of yesterday afternoon engaged in fun conversations with other area yogis are planning on studying at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, and the theme that kept coming up again and again was: To truly experience Mysore, you have to surrender to the experience.

So by the end of the month when I travel to Mysore, perhaps I’ll understand first-hand that I can add another sure-fire way of learning to surrender? That one would be labeled as: Make the sacrifices you need to make to get to the shala in Mysore. 

!

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

Guru Purnima

Today’s full moon marks Guru Purnima, known to ashtangis the world over as the day commemorating the auspicious 1915 birth of K. Pattabhi Jois. With each passing year, this day feels more and more like a celebration to me — the kind of celebration you don’t get dressed up for, and one you probably aren’t talking to your co-workers and neighbors about. Instead, it’s the kind of celebration marked quietly, internally, and honored outwardly in different ways by the ashtanga diaspora — perhaps over Facebook shares and blog posts and, if you’re in New York City, attending the evening puja, changin (and surprise) at Eddie Stern’s Ashtanga Yoga New York.

  • The incredibly prolific Grimmly has, not surprisingly, provided a wealth of information about Pattabhi Jois in a new post that includes old interviews, videos, photos and student reflections. (And as my next meeting is about to start and I am about to hit “publish,” Grimmly has just announced that he has already updated this post to include interviews with early students.)
  • Here is a photo slideshow by Barry Silver that’s making the rounds.
  • Ashtanga Yoga Library’s Elise Espat posted this “Weekend Edition #15” post on Guru purnima.
  • The Confluence Countdown has been posting videos leading up to today.

Barry Silver tribute to Guruji

I’m sure there’s a ton more out there, but that’s all I’ve got time for on this lunch break. All I will say is that if you haven’t read Guruji yet, I highly recommend it. I was lucky enough to be in a led class once in Montreal with Pattabhi Jois, but what resonates most with me is how much this larger-than-life spirit inspired the teachers who are today inspiring a new generation of ashtangis — helping them find transformation in their lives in ways that go far beyond the mat.

Back to work I go, with Guruji and parampara on my mind.

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

 

 

 

 

AY:A2 ashtanga session ‘bootlegs’

 
Stone Arch in Saline, Mich.One of my favorite practices of the year takes place at the summer Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat held inside a beautiful decommissioned church called the Stone Arch in Saline, Mich. (Here’s a peek inside last year’s retreat.) At today’s retreat, about 50 practitioners from three countries and at least five states started out the morning with a Mysore practice. The 35 or so who had snagged a spot for the sold-out retreat itself stayed for a delicious lunch (we all know good food is important to yogis) and a multi-faceted day spent discussing, and playing with, listening — as discussed in this snippet from the official retreat description:

This retreat, and the sensitizing exercises of the next six weeks, are about raw listening. Close listening. Naked listening. Minimalist listening. A sort of receptivity that not only (1) sets the stage for consciousness to fall into a restful state, but is also (2) completely OK with the fluctuations of the mind just as they are.

Classical yoga offers thousands of techniques to change our inner experience. This is good. But having a body means that fluctuations will arise. The same is true for having a mind. If you breathe, there will be vrittis.

So, in addition to having the tools to quiet or the mind, it is also good – and surprisingly enjoyable at times- to be able to step back and let experience be whatever it wants to be. No fix-its. No analysis. Just hanging out, consciously, with the mind as it is.

Minimalist listening of this sort is a big part of yoga. It is a kind of self-acceptance. And as the patterning of the mindbody’s blips and bump become clear, a door in consciousness opens to calm, curious self-appreciation. It brings on a John Cage sort of laughter… the kind doesn’t mean anything at all.

Stone Arch retreat Mysore practiceAs with most of Angela Jamison’s workshops, it’s impossible to write a blog post that would do justice to the session’s subtleties and refreshing refracted perspectives on the eight limbs of the practice — so I won’t. (Sorry!)

I will, however, point you to some videos that were posted last month of a session Angela held for beginners to AY:A2. (I would have written about it sooner, but life has presented me with some challenges over the past few weeks.) Though designed for beginners, the clips touch on topics relevant to practitioners at any stage of development of the practice.

There’s the whole session and short clips segmented by topics:

Each session comes with an overview, so check out the “about” tab for that.

What I highly recommend, though, is leaving this space and heading over to Grimmly’s blog, where he posted an excellent overview of the videos — which he aptly called bootlegs — and links to relevant posts and other interesting notes. The post includes his review of the AY:A2 House Recommendations book designed by Laura Shaw Feit of Small Blue Pearls, on which the House Recommendations segment is based. If you haven’t already taken advantage of the free download of the 24-page book, I suggest you go do that, stat. I took the option of buying a copy for $3.84, since I prefer the antiquated method of reading things in hard copy.

HouseRec

Even better yet — as I always recommend with good teachers — find a way to travel to study with Angela in person. 😉

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

 

 

Goodnight, Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis

Goodnight, Moon

The Way-Before-Breakfast Club — the one for morning-challenged ashtangis — said its final goodnight with this week’s full moon.

The club was born when, on a beautiful whim last August, I received a blog reader’s email asking if I would be interested in essentially being her accountability buddy in getting up early, consistently, to practice. The who and the why went something like this:

Who/What

Welcome to the Way-Before-Breakfast Club, a cheerleading squad/support group for those of us who have a deep-seated desire to wake up at brutally early hours to practice Ashtanga yoga.

Why

  • Because we’re night owls.
  • Because we’re morning people when morning = 7 a.m. or something more sane like that.
  • Because we’re really busy.
  • Because we’re really, really busy.
  • Because we love to sleep.
  • Because we love to dream.
  • Because we live in cold regions of the world and it’s so damn cold at that hour.
  • Because we live in warm weather climates and even though it’s not cold at that hour, it’s still that hour, which is bad enough.
  • Because we don’t like to wake up when it’s pitch dark.

And the ground rules — such as they were — went something like this:

  • Prospective members need to be committed to practicing yoga six days a week, and earlier than they want to (so you may work nights, and maybe 10 a.m. is your early morning. The key is that doing this means sacrificing something important to you — e.g., sleep, time for other things, etc. — to make this work).

  • Yoga does not have to equal Ashtanga every day, but it should have a strong Ashtanga mix. It’s not that I don’t want other styles of yoga here — I just think it’s better for a community to stay focused on the common ground of this practice. This too is relative — maybe you really sort of hate Ashtanga, but you want to like it, and and practicing it twice a week would feel like a ridiculously strong mix to you. If you already <3 Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, well, that’s a five- or six-day-a-week practice, I’m afraid.

  • Members commit to either joining a calendar feed or deciding to skip the feed, but committing to posting a progress update on the page at least once a week.

  • Members must commit to keeping themselves accountable, but not beating up on themselves for the days they fall short. We all have to have positive motivation for this . . . .

  • . . . . that said . . . . So, life happens. And we fall off the wagon sometimes. But if there comes a point when a member has to give up trying and eight weeks have lapsed, that person will be asked to take a hiatus from the group. This would be done in the spirit of keeping the energy of the group a motivating and focused one.

For our virtual club, we used a pretty new platform called Mightybell (if you’re in the social media world, you would recognize the founder of this space, Gina Bianchini, as the founder of the groundbreaking Ning years ago). Mightybell was a fantastic space for us to use because we could make the space invite-only and comment on each others’ text, photos and documents.

All in all, there were about 18 members who passed through the club at one point another, along with a stellar coach/advisor/confidant/guide who has studied in Mysore and maintains a dedicated six-day-a-week home practice because there is no shala in her town. We hailed from seven countries and eight U.S. states.

By my recollection, for the first six months or so, the conversations ranged from fun and funny to juicy and even edging on transformative. Perspectives were changed, that I know for sure. Members were engaged, candid, supportive and resourceful. Here were yogis who had never met dedicating practices to one another. There were many practices that would not have happened had it not been for the encouragement of the group. And it wasn’t just about what was happening on the mat. There were some very intimate conversations about significant others and how that relates to practice; about our jobs; about how a sitting practice affects an asana practice; and on and on. Fascinating, and important, stuff.

Somewhere along the line, however, the momentum slowed. Members got quieter and quieter. Over time, everyone’s energies appeared to flow somewhere other than the humble breakfast club.

I suppose I could try to dissect what worked and what didn’t. If I’m ever involved in trying to start another virtual club of this kind, I will certainly do that. But for now, I’d rather approach the club — which one of our members dubbed the Ashtanga Fight Club, since what was discussed in the space stayed in the space — the way we approach our daily asana practices. When we roll out mats in the morning, we’re there to be in the moment. When the practice is done, when we roll up our mat, we’re done. No matter how the practice might have felt, we move on with our day knowing that we’ve got better energy coursing through us than we would have, had we not practiced that morning.

And so what started with a wonderful, spontaneous thought ended with the power of this week’s supermoon — the largest full moon of the year. Thank you to each of you who made the the Way-Before-Breakfast Club a reality. It was an honor to be part of this community.

(Illustration credit: Goodnight Moon via brillianthues’ photostream)

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

 

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

Assisted backbends

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

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

Behind the chant

Here is one exploration of the chant:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assisted dropbacks

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

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

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

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

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

Grabbing your what?

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

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

More on trust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually, there is a breakthrough:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding space

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

What’s an ashtangi stuck on an island pulsing with the energy of inebriated schmoozing to do?

I am on a boat headed to a big work-related conference that I am not looking forward to. Not. At. All. (I sort of feel like a pouty character in Dr. Seuss book saying this out loud.) Business and politics and schmoozing and drinking — lots and lots of drinking — are the name of the game at this conference. I’m not feeling like doing any of these things right now, and certainly not for the rest of the week.

What’s an ashtangi to do? Tell me what you would do. Hare are some things I’m doing:

    • I’ve been replaying, in my head, snippets of a fantastic short little film based on a David Foster Wallace commencement speech that Paul Gold posted on his blog recently. Unfortunately, due to some copyright fights, the viral video, done by The Glossary, is no longer available. But you can still listen to the powerful speech in its entirely. (I hope the copyright rights are resolved, because it was an important video to have out there.)
    • I went to the shala a bit earlier than normal for a Wednesday so that I could practice and still meet my carpool on time to get here. I have my yoga mat and Mysore rug so that I can practice each morning, and the Mysore rug will double as my meditation mat for this trip. I file all this under the category of “help with shock absorption.” (This one kind of goes without saying, right?)
    • I brought my Ayurvedic teas and such with me. It’s nearly impossible to stick to my overall pitta- (and, now) vata-balancing) Ayurvedic program here, but I’ve found lately that the more I stick to it in general, the less I feel the fluctuations when I have to go off it. (Plus, long story short, my sage Ayurvedic counselor told me earlier this month that I went so far with my original pitta-balance program that now the name of the game for me is to “relax the program.” Such a pitta problem to have!)
    • I’ll try yet again to embody Shinzen Young’s awesome definitions of equanimity.
    • Oh, right — I’ll also try to find the humor of being stuck on this island. (This is the kind of place where people dress up in period costume for the tourists, and where the fudge flows freely. I kind of judge both things, but I’ll try to be less judgmental while here. 😉 )

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

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My next beach reading

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

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


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

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

[Retreat dispatch] Xinalani means ‘seeds’

Despite the calendar alleging that spring starts tomorrow, it’s cold (quite cold) and snowing again here in mid-Michigan. That makes it a challenge to not think back to the warmth, beach and sun of the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani — so I thought I’d devote a post to the property itself. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in yoga workshops and retreats offered in breathtaking locations. But I had never spent a week abroad in a place designed specifically for yoga groups until this month, when I went to Xinalani with nine very sweet (and also hilarious) ashtangis.

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Despite not having anything to compare Xinalani to, I’m pretty confident in saying that I can’t imagine a more gorgeous and compelling place to practice yoga and go deep:

  • See: The beauty? Check out the photos below or the official Xinalani photos — I think they speak for themselves.
  • Hear: As I previously noted, the fact that you can hear the waves day and night — as seemingly constant as your heartbeat — makes the location simply magical.
  • Feel: The property is thoughtfully designed to accomodate yoga practices. Whether moving through your practice in the Green House or the Jungle Studio, you feel like someone who must truly respect their yoga practice designed this space.

I even love the name of the place. Xinalani (pronounced “she-nah-lah-nee”) means “seeds” in ancient Mexico, according to the welcome book left in each of Xinalani’s guest suites. “Come plant the seeds of wellness,” the property whispers. [Done! :-) ]

Xinalani means seeds

Xinalani caters to yoga groups, but it also welcomes individuals and couples. (The one caution I would give about the place as a getaway would be for anyone with mobility restrictions. Because the retreat center is built up into a jungle, there are a lot of steep stairs to negotiate. Depending on where your suite is located, you might need to walk up 130 to 150 stairs to get from the dining area to your room, and another few dozen steps to get to one of the yoga studios or the meditation cabin.)

suiteI can’t say enough about the staffers, who were incredibly attentive. They made a point to remember your name, and they always had a smile and a “Cómo estás?” for you. The first couple of mornings when I used my flashlight to walk down to the dining area around 6:30 a.m. to get some hot tea before practice, I had to ask for black tea versus the chamomile that they had out. By the third morning, one of the waiters had remembered me and I never had to ask again  — he would bring it out as soon as he saw me. So thoughtful.

The whole set-up was actually far more luxurious than any of us had anticipated. I’ve talked about the meals and cooking classes. They were also eco-tours, spa treatments, surf lessons, and a host of other services to choose from.

It was important to our group that the owners of Xinalani have a commitment to an ethical venture and a low-impact lifestyle. Within 20 minutes of arriving, I’m pretty sure each of us on the retreat were trying to figure out how to keep the magic going — and how to get back here some day.

Want to see photos?

 

More from the Xinalani retreat:

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

[Retreat dispatch] PVR –> DTW, without leaving the magic behind

Xinalani signage

One week ago today, after spending seven nights in the breathtaking seclusion that is Xinalani, I boarded a direct flight from Puerto Vallarta to Detroit. The flight home is normally when I take a deep sigh and realize that (1) while I will be so happy to see my family, (2) it will be like taking a cold shower to return to the daily grind of work and domestic obligations (project deadlines, home task lists, bills to pay . . . when’s my next vacation again?). During winter, I get the added dread of (3) returning to the cold weather.

Reentry is so damn hard.

This time, to my surprise, I was pretty zen about leaving — and it wasn’t because I didn’t love every second of the retreat (I absolutely did). I think part of it is that I went in with the right attitude, and part of it was that this six-day-a-week practice has helped me deal with everyday stress to such an extent that returning doesn’t seem like such a hard landing.

I thought in this post I’d share a few ideas I’ve been kicking around this past week for how to make the most out of a dream yoga vacation — in other words, how to not dread the flight back.


The very first evening of our Xinalani retreat last week, Angela Jamison talked about how she likes to do daylong retreats that people experience in the middle of their normal lives. Retreats in spectacular getaways like this one, she said, can be challenging. If we become happy only because we’re in this space, we’re relying on circumstance-based happiness.

“What do you do when you when you leave?”

I don’t know that we ever returned to that question, but asking it on the first evening of the retreat was a sweet way to help each of us frame the retreat.

The last time I went away to a hypnotic place to practice yoga, it was 2011 and Mt. Shasta. I was with about 20 other yogis who were as thrilled as I was to have the chance to practice yoga and hike daily with Tim Miller. It was that retreat that kick-started my consistent six-day-a-week practice.

I’ve done weekend retreats to beautiful settings in Michigan, but a dormant volcanic and a beach-meets-jungle setting are my two anchors of going away — truly going away — to find something deeper. Based on these two experiences, I’ve thought about five possible ways to extend the fruits of your trip indefinitely.

1. Start the retreat like a sleuth on the trail of sparks of inspiration.
Flowers seen in the town of Yelapa, a short boat ride from XinalaniYou’re a detective, and the mystery is how you can make this trip last longer than your physical time there. The clues will show up in places large and small. I try to bottle up the space of feeling carefree that I’m experiencing, but in reality, that feeling can be so fleeting; the minute I get in that customs line back at home, I’ve long since forgotten what it feels like to not have a care in the world. So I try to collect momentos: I take pictures of clouds and waves, I blog about moments, and I record relaxing sounds. Far from enlightened, I need some concreteness to my inspiration.

 

2. Once home, use the inspirational sparks you’ve collected a little differently.

Xinalani rocksI used to look at beach pictures on my work desk and sort of sigh internally — if only I had won the lottery and were lying on that beach instead of sitting where I was. That is such an unproductive pattern of thinking, I realize now. I’m never going to win the lottery.

Or maybe I already have, time and time again, by being surrounded by incredible people day in and day out, and by finding this ashtanga practice.

These days, when I look at photos of paradises visited, rather than try to jump back into that picture, I try to pull out the essences of that place and time and import the feelings into my current space. That feeling of completely surrendering on the beach — I can’t have that at my desk, but can I drop my shoulder blades down my back and find a calming exhale?
Girl meditating via Viktor Egelund's Facebook pageA friend of mine shared a ridiculously cute photo of a little girl meditating a couple days ago, along with this Rumi quote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” That flip was helpful, and I started thinking about Xinalani and Mt. Shasta, and how maybe I can see these divine places not as thousands of miles away from me, but thousands of ways already part of me. (This probably obvious to most everyone reading this, but it was a revelation for me. 😉 Old mental habits are hard to break!)

3. Journal every day

Write a little something every day, whether it’s with a smooth pen in your favorite notebook or using an iPad. Your journaling doesn’t have to be related at all the to the retreat, but getting your thoughts on paper can be incredibly therapeutic.

4. Spend a little time alone every day

I think this tends to happen naturally during retreats, but if it doesn’t, then consider taking some time alone each day. I think this helps to focus your energies on you — what you’re experiencing, what you’re getting in touch with, what you’re trying to avoid.

5. Start a new habit during the retreat, and stick with it for at least 30 days after returning home, starting with your first day back

The day that you stopI think retreats are invaluable. I know they’re expensive, but saving up for them — like I did for this one, $25 at a time — is worth more than any material possession you can buy. To make it more than just an escape, I try to use the experience to plant new seeds on the levels of the body, mind and spirit. That might mean using the retreat to work on re-patterning how I think about one very specific thing (work, an old relationship, a new relationship, or whatever). It might be to start a new habit, like a regular asana practice or meditation schedule. It might be to forge better eating habits.

That said, don’t look at your whole lifestyle and decide you want to change it all at once on this one retreat. It’s not going to happen, and you’re setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Instead, pick one or two concrete things and run with it . . .

. . . and promise yourself — hold yourself accountable — that as soon as the plane touches down on the runway, you’re going to do whatever it was that you told yourself you would do. I’ve learned from very wise women in my life that trying something for a month or 40 days does wonders to help the habit stick.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

(Photo credit: Meditating girl, as shared on Viktor Egelund’s Facebook page; Self-destructive sign, as shared on the Love, Sex, Intelligence Facebook page)

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

 

[Retreat dispatch] The eyes (well, dristi) have it

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced each morning

The Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced our dristi each morning. The fact that it was such an amazing space meant it also offered potential distractions — and thus even more reason to hold our gazes!

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013 AROUND 10:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

As the keys of my little iPad Bluetooth keyboard click away, the waves are rolling and music from the retreat center’s salsa night blares down below in the lounge as the other yogis on vacation here drink and dance a bit. (All the ashtangis, however, are in their rooms, and most are no doubt asleep. I should be too, but what else is new?) It’s a strange mix of sounds, but everything fits somehow.

Seeing the evening’s salsa instructor stroll in as I headed up to my room to start settling down to bed reminds me that it’s been far too long since my husband and I have had our own salsa lesson. One of the last times I saw my salsa teacher, he told me — as he does every time I see him — that I need to relax.

I remember the exchange really well. “I am relaxed,” I insisted.

“No you’re not,” he said. I must have given him a look, because he continued, “Do you know how I know?” I shook my head.

“Your eyes.”

He was right, of course. My head, as usual, thought I was relaxed, but some part of my body, as usual, gave it away that I wasn’t truly. Being the yoga dork that I am, I immediately thought of dristi at the moment, and how important it is to the ashtanga practice.

I’ve been blessed: My extreme near-sightedness has helped me keep my awareness on my own mat even early on in my yoga practice, when I didn’t have an ashtanga teacher to teach me about tristana (the concentration practice of breath, bandha and dristi). People just several feet away aren’t defined by clear lines; I see them as blobs if my glasses aren’t on. So even if I wanted to dart my eyes around the room, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything clearly enough anyway.

These days, I get to employ dristi to help deepen my internal awareness, and the more tools I have to keep the discursive mind at bay, the better. It’s also just a relief: I spend much of my time at work needing my eyes to flitter between my two computer screens (a set-up I love, don’t get me wrong) and sometimes my iPhone too. In the 700 miles or so that I drive each week, my eyes have to be focused and also scanning to keep me driving defensively and safely on the road. Only focus on one place during practice? I’m all over it.


Each evening this week, we’ve had an evening workshop that looked more closely at a couple of topics key to an asana practice or to a meditation practice, and the workshop yesterday on dristi sparked a lot of interesting discussion. Angela talked to us about two emerging fields that involve therapeutic use of eye movement: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and brainspotting.

Fascinating stuff. I know there is some resistance, and even controversy, over some of these techniques. But knowing the power of dristi — whether it’s in the yoga practice or in life and literature (eyes give lovers away all the time, don’t they?) — the concepts instinctively make sense to me.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

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

[Retreat dispatch] Waves, vrittis and meditations

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani waves

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2013 AROUND 9:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

The first thing you notice about the Xinalani eco retreat center on Mexico’s Banderas Bay — about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta — are the waves. They’re stunning, and amplified. They’re so loud it seems like the winds must be unusually high, or a storm is coming, or, though obviously not the case, the retreat center has strangely managed to mic the entire gorgeous beachfront and pipe the sounds to wherever you happen to be. And what you continue to notice — as you wake up, or practice yoga, or meditate, or get ready for dinner, or chat with your friends, or read on the beach, or wash sand out of your ears, or head to bed — is that incredibly, the waves are still there. It’s as if they’re being controlled by a larger-than-life metronome.

Descriptions of the waves that ebbed and flowed among our group members included the steadiness of a heartbeat — and the steadiness of vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sleep this close to a beachfront, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to practice yoga in a place like this (though in 2009, I did get to practice yoga inside the inner sanctum of a Masonic center in Vancouver — that was totally weird). It’s the fourth night of our seven-night ashtanga yoga retreat led by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, and the nine of us lucky enough to be on this first such trip are still so blown away by the whole experience — and especially by the waves.

We used the sounds of the waves during meditation today to explore an auditory element of a concentration-focused sitting practice. Among the questions explored: Could we meditate on the waves and experience the sounds as recordings, detached from any visual experience? What did we experience between the sensations in the auditory, visual and kinesthetic fields?


This afternoon, my friend Jade and I decided to get a little silly and play on the beach a bit. Against our better judgment, we decided to do an inversion on one of the beach’s many rock formations, even though it was late afternoon and high tide. After I got up into ardha sirsasana and settled into the relief that I was stable and balanced and hadn’t toppled over, a wave came in and, indeed, toppled me over. The exact same thing happened to Jade, even though I swore, now that we knew the pattern, that I would be able to warn her in time. Those waves move pretty damn fast.

We had such a blast getting knocked over by waves — far more fun than when mental fluctuations come out of nowhere (or at least seem to come out of nowhere, even though we should usually recognize the pattern) and throw us off course. They’re the memories from the past that run roughshod over your present moment. Or anxieties about the future that intrude on your current mood. Or the rumbling of some rambling thoughts — happy, silly, profound, whatever — that zap into your headspace at inopportune times.

Crashing waves

 

Jade and the waves


Knowing that Angela would lead a few opportunities to sit each day — and knowing that I would have time to sit beyond those periods as well — I came into this retreat with a goal of establishing a more consistent meditation practice.

I found the path to my six-day-a-week ashtanga practice back in 2011 following an ashtanga retreat to California’s Mt. Shasta with the very big-hearted Tim Miller. Meeting Tim in 2010 changed my perspective and my practice — and  by extension, my life — in profound ways.

Soon after returning from that trip, in which I let go of some pretty deep emotional baggage I was carrying around, I met Angela back home in Michigan. She is the teacher I now realize I’ve been looking for my whole life, and having this retreat time was the sweetest gift in the world.

(In case you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in retreats — they’re worth every dime you have to save up and all the sacrifices you have to make to attend, because for so many of us, daily life simply doesn’t afford the space to create a new pathway for yourself.)

So now I’m looking forward to converting the inspiration from this experience to finding a path to a deeper daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating between five and seven days a week since this past fall, but the meditations have been at different times of days and for different lengths of time. I want some consistency so that I can reach more penetrating places. It doesn’t have to be the consistency of the waves I’m hearing as I type this, but I do want to make meditation much more of a constant in my day-to-day routine.

I know that the more this happens, the less those knock-out vrittis will get the best of me.


A momento I collected from the trip:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

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

Community + practice = glowing (or, how to practice in a Michigan winter when the furnace has blown)

Cartoon of a cold practice, via Michael Joel Hall

When I arrived at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor this morning at 7 a.m., my fellow AY: A2 apprentice Rachel was practicing in the finishing room, and my teacher, Angela, was on her cell phone.

Clearly, something was amiss.

Namely, the heat was nowhere to be found.

Today got up above freezing so it was warm in contrast to what temperatures have been hovering at for the past few weeks here. Still, it’s winter in Michigan, and it was in the teens when I got out of my car. The new big furnace fueling the Phoenix Center had given out for reasons I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say it made for an early morning bandha adventure (should “bandha adventure” come with a yoga superhero jingle?). Despite calls with the building’s owner and messing with fuses, the furnace never magically kicked back up.

Rachel and I had our marching orders: Do our normal practice in the finishing room — with only two space heaters and, of course, our bandhas to heat us — and move at a faster clip than we usually do. We needed to help heat the room and we needed to avoid claiming valuable real estate for too long, since we would need to open up spots for students coming in. (The Sunday invocation is at 8 a.m., but students start showing up well before that.)

So I did what is normally my two-hour practice (all of primary series through eka pada sirsasana in second series) in a record 90 minutes — and it didn’t feel like I was artificially or frantically rushing either. When I got to kapotasana, Angela came over to adjust and afterward she said, “This environment is good for you.” (She said also said what I joke is the single scariest word in a Mysore room: “Again.” :-) But she says that every day I am there. I’ve learned to love that word.)

I knew exactly what Angela meant when she said that environment was good for me. I am by nature so cautious — in my practice, in my career. I know I could practice a little faster, but I also don’t want to go so fast that I wear myself out too soon, especially when I am going on not enough sleep due to burning the candle at both ends, like I have been lately. So I try to find a steady pace that I know I can stay with. (If only I drove this way! I’m one of those terrible speed up/slow day kind of drivers.) I am so cautious with my career; as one example, I went to graduate journalism school because I wanted to make sure I had time to learn from some of the best people in the field before I started reporting for a living. I don’t think these are bad tendencies — I have always believed that the measured among us help balance out the manic energy of the “shoot first, ask questions later” types. I truly think organizations need both to succeed, and societies need both to advance.

But yeah. This was a great reminder that seemingly unideal conditions can actually be the ideal environment to bring out the best in us. The lack of space in the physical room reflected the lack of space for my mind to wander. I was on a mission: Help heat the room, and move through my practice fast enough to not take up space for too long. That left little room for dinking, roving thoughts, etc.

It turned out that we had exactly the right number of spots for the number of people who came, and I don’t think anyone had to wait too too long before a spot opened up for them. The body heat got up so high that we didn’t even need the space heaters on after some point. Even the new students of the shala’s once-a-week drop-in class, called Mysore Light, seemed to enjoy the super sweaty, detoxifying heat. The huge, steamed-up windows were glorious to see — like a piece of art that everyone in the shala had helped to create together.

The cartoon at the top of this post was posted on AY: A2’s Facebook page last month by D.C. ashtangi Michael Joel Hall. (Thanks, Michael! Hopefully you and I will get to meet some day — perhaps when I get a chance to go out and see Jen Rene.) I thought of that cartoon today, and it made me laugh.

Today’s whole escapade is also a great opportunity to bring up an aptly titled blog post from earlier this week: “How to practice when hell’s freezing over“:

Anyone else cold and nauseous? Darn if this is not a cold, cold ocean. So. Are we going to practice with this situation or what?

It’s not actually about practicing in cold temperatures. But it is about practicing in cold, adverse conditions — perhaps the coldest and the darkest kinds, the kinds our unenlightened nervous systems create for ourselves.

I guess this post is dedicated to anyone struggling with finding the wherewithal to establish a consistent morning yoga practice. This morning could have totally, like the furnace, blown. But community + practice = glowing. No matter what the conditions when you start, everything alway ends up better by the time you’re done.

Steamy Mysore room

(Graphic credit: Via Michael Joel Hall’s Facebook photos. Photo credit: Courtesy of Tim Veeser)  

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

‘All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.’

Mysore room, post-practice

My Mysore sanctuary, post-practice on a recent Sunday

I had dinner with a good friend the other night and we were talking about led classes versus Mysore classes. She, like me, grew up (in that yoga coming-of-age kind of way) in an environment of power/vinyasa classes mixed in with accents of led Ashtanga classes. She — like me, before I found my Mysore sanctuary at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor — didn’t quite get all the nuances of how a Mysore room operated. I used to suspect that I would have foundered had I learned Ashtanga in the traditional Mysore way. I envisioned Rose in a parallel Mysore universe having gotten frustrated from being stopped and fleeing the whole yoga scene, never to return.

So funny to realize now how welcoming and deeply nurturing a Mysore room actually is — how “getting stopped” is the way our go-go-go Type A culture describes the very compassionate philosophy of not pushing you faster than you should go.

Enter the Mysore SF blog, with a new post titled, “How to learn Ashtanga Yoga. Led Class versus Mysore class?”:

Led classes have become very popular and so has its ill reputation (Ashtanga as dangerous, aggressive, knee breaking). I believe it is because many have learned from led classes and were doing the postures they were in no way ready for. Learning in this way is more like learning backwards. All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room. By the way the Mysore room is the big sister to vinyasa classes. She is the mama from which vinyasa/power and all its hybrids come from so if and when you’re ‘ready to deepen your practice’ Mysore is the inevitable truth for you…my sincerest apologies.

“All that you learn you may need to unlearn once you enter a Mysore room.” I love this concept, and in fact, I’ve been going through an unlearning curve for less than a year as a Mysore student and, more recently, as an apprentice of Angela Jamison. It’s a fascinating process unlike any other I think I’ve experienced.

(And one of these days when I haven’t worked 11 hours and when I’m not trying to beat the clock to bed so that I can get up early enough to practice — well, one of these days, I’ll have to write more about it.)

© 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.

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

Kino MacGregor on ElephantJournal.com

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

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

I’m a bad Ashtangi.

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

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

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

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

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

So maybe I’m also a little bit good.

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

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

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

Yes, for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plow, baby, plow (or, how to create new patterns)

Old and new patterns“Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.” –Sri T Krishnamacharya

I shared this graphic on the YogaRose.net Facebook page today, and I liked it so much I thought I would share it here as well. (I saw it by way of Yoga Hana‘s share, and as far as I can tell, the original came from Tim Kelleher Yoga.)

Here is what I said about it on Facebook:

So this was a perfect thing for me to catch today. It’s been such a long week (already, and it’s only Wednesday!) and I realized this afternoon that today I started to fall into old patterns of stress. I identified this and took a little break from work because I wanted to short-circuit the pattern. One of the things practicing six days a week has helped me do is not eliminate old patterns — yet — but identify them and decrease the frequency and duration of them.

And here is what had happened: I had felt like a big weight had been lifted by mid-afternoon because I had just wrapped up a two-hour training session that I was co-leading. It was a fun and fruitful session, and having it behind me allowed me to get to the rest of the deadlines I have for the end of the week. But when I got back to the office, a couple of things I had checked off my list had boomeranged back to me, which was a bit frustrating. (What’s arguably worse than not being able to check something off my list is checking it off and having it reappear again.) I think old-pattern Rose would have then spiraled into feeling more stressed and would have powered through and tried to get as much done in the afternoon as possible, even if it meant a darkening mood. New-pattern Rose took a step back, realized Project Boomerang could be dealt with the following day, left the office for about half an hour, and returned feeling a lot better.

Zap, the sound of the short-circuiting of an old pattern.

Traces

I’ve seen this Krishnamacharya quote before, but seeing it again today reminded me of a passage I particularly like in the book Myths of the Asanas about halasana, or plow pose:

According to yoga philosophy, all of our actions and thoughts leave traces in our consciousness. Our actions in this world can either remove impressions from the landscape of our consciousness or carve new ones. Just as Haladhara [Krishna’s older brother] dragged the Yamuna [a great river] to him with his plow, the yogi seeks to draw the mind back from its negative wanderings in order to absorb the positive. There is a sutra in the fourth chapter of the Yoga Sutra that talks about this kind of ‘plowing of the mind’:

nimittam-aprayojakaṁ prakṛtīnāṁ-varaṇa-bhedastu tataḥ kṣetrikavat

Essentially, what this sutra says, just as a farmer plows his field to introduce water to the field for irrigation, if we remove the obstacles in our path toward yoga, we can lead our mind toward it. In this way, the plow of our mind leads us to liberation, based on the quality of our thoughts. The plow pose provides an excellent opportunity to plow the field of our mind with positive thinking.

And finally, this reminds me of a David Swenson quote posted on Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page (and shared 25 times) earlier this month:

I have understood that meditations, prayers, asanas are just a tool. And this tool can be used to plough the soil and to make it fertile. This is what practice does – it makes the soil fertile. If a person fulfils difficult asanas or prays constantly it does not mean yet that this person is spiritual. It simply means that inside him there is a fertile soil. And what the person plants into this soil will grow. Therefore, the more intensively we practice, the more cautious we should be. If you plant an ego into this fertile soil it will grow up much more than an ego of a usual person. Spirituality is not defined by practice. Spirituality is defined by concentration, intention and actions of a practitioner.

zerodegreesIt’s the middle of winter — my least favorite season — here in Michigan. The weather last week was a frosty 0 degrees before you took wind chill into account. Yesterday and today? A balmy 55 degrees. In a couple days it will be back in the teens. The roads have been an absolute mess and the commute has required even concentration than usual. It’s most certainly not the time to think about gardening, growth and abundance.

And yet . . . maybe this is actually a wonderful season to nurture and cultivate new plantings. Since I’ve never actually had a garden myself, here’s some random gardening advice I just found online:

Regular tilling and amending of your soil will make it easier to work with as years go by….Preparing garden soil is a long-term, continual process. It can’t be done in one growing season. Fall may be the best time to begin soil improvement, but it’s also possible to begin now.

As with a garden, so with our consciousness?

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

[VIDEO] Three questions for Jayashree and Narasimhan / The sutras as ‘a single string that gives a single meaning’

20121116-211845.jpg

Long day, up at 5 a.m. in my Eastern time zone, where it’s now the middle of the night. It’s only 1:30 a.m. here in California, where I just landed — a state that hasn’t been home for a decade and a half, yet still feels very much like home. Being a bit turned around on the whole space and time front seems like a fairly apt time to talk about how I started the week — with two evenings spent in workshops with Indian scholars Dr. M.A. Jayashree and M.A. Narasimhan, hosted by Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor. The sessions, as promised, went a little like this: “Monday, we will have an introduction to Indian philosophy and some chanting of the Samadhi Pada. Tuesday, we will focus on the eight (ashtau) limbs (anga) that asht-anga yoga comprises.”

Looking back, though, I can’t really separate day 1 from day 2, and one of my favorite quotes from the evenings was when Jayashree explained that Patanjali goes on like loops. Some people say “sutra” (singular) rather than “sutrani” (plural) to describe the yoga sutras, because every sutra is linked with the other (just as each of the four chapters of the books, or padas, of the Yoga Sutras are linked with the other):

It is a single string that gives a single meaning.

At minimum, we were told, “to understand one sutra, you need the previous, and the next.”

Jayashree, whose bright smile reminded me of my mom’s joy and radiance when she sings classical Thai songs, later illustrated the idea by the idea by sticking out her arm. “Can I call my hands as ‘Jayashree’? Can I call my eyes as ‘Jayashree’?”

‘Ashtanga is yoga’

When I was in Maui this spring for my honeymoon, I had the good fortune to meet the gorgeous and ginormous Banyan Tree (pictured above) that graciously unfolds in the town of Lahaina. One tree, many trees — it’s hard to tell, because you can’t quite discern where one ends and one begins. It reminded me of M.C. Escher drawings.

At some point, Narasimhan started discussing viveka and at some point, he said: “In the Indian system of thought, there is no black and white. No right or wrong. Shades of gray.” (This, in turn, reminded me of what I’ve been learning about Ayurveda, and the idea that there is no “good” or “bad” herb or mineral, for instance. Just the appropriate one for the appropriate condition.)

Loops

Here are some impressions, some moments:

  • One way to view yoga’s purpose? To create optimistic, happy and connected people who can in turn help make society happier and more connected.
  • It’s not accurate to view India as having many Gods. “There is only one primordial force,” Narasimham said. “We always follow the primordial force.” What, then, of all the images of deities — such as the unmistakable Ganesha, with his elephant head? Think of them as creative forces. “Creatives forces are represented as a god — small ‘g’ god.”
  • Ganesha is the remover of internal obstacles. A human being has a spinal column and two hemispheres, and from the back, the human body can appear like an elephant’s head.
  • Bramacharya is “controlled sex” rather than celibacy. So, even if you are married, you only have sex under certain circumstances, not just whenever and wherever; and that schedule is given in the scriptures.
  • The nervous system is the bridge between the physical and the mind.
  • Kriya yoga as physical, mental, emotional –> tapasya, svadyaya, isvara pranidhana –> action, knowledge, devotion/love –> karma yoga, jnana yoga, bhakti yoga.
  • The electrical attraction between a cloth and dust creates a dirty cloth. You remove dirt by using a cleaning agent such as soap. Tapasya acts as a cleaning agent to help separate us from guilt, much the same way other cleaning agents work to break attraction. The eight limbs of yoga cleanses us physically, mentally and emotionally.
  • Processes abound, but effort does not necessarily need to accompany those processes. Asana –> pranayama –> pratyahara. Dharana –> dhyana –> samadhi. You cannot put forth effort to express samadhi, which is the opposite of what happens in the external world, where typically, the more effort you put forth, the more you are rewarded.

I could share more impressions and more moments, or I could let you hear a little from the brother-and-sister team yourself. In the first video, they offer an unforgettable analogy of samadhi to none other than a cup of coffee — while name-checking Starbucks to boot. In the second question, they discuss subjects and objects. I think the springboard for the third question (questions and answers sort of overlapped, as you might imagine happens in this kind of discussion) was about Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, who was described as essentially a psychologist, with his work being more relevant today than ever before.

Three Questions

What is samadhi?

The second yoga sutra discusses “citta vrtti,” which you describe as loops. How can the first few sutras help us as human beings understand consciousness and our relationships with objects, and how can the sutras help us change our relationships with loop patterns?

What changes with yoga?

I am such a devotee of the ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice because I love its design. It’s beyond brilliant. And every time I learn more about the aphorisms that collectively make up Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, my respect grows. For me, listening to Jayashree and Narasimhan discuss the sutras — and chanting in Sanskrit along with them — helped illuminate the intricate yet I suppose ultimately simple architecture of the sutras. The images I’ve been feeling in the days since have been Escher-esque bridges, ropes and branches that loop, pathways that only appear linear, trap doors that actually liberate, and beginnings and ends that connect and recoil. It doesn’t matter where in this spiritual design you start. Walk along whichever foot path intrigues you most to discover a universal journey through your individual experience.

Links

(Photo credit: The famous Banyan Tree in Lahaina, Maui, via echobase_2000’s Flick Creative Commons license)

© 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.

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Richard Freeman

Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor

Richard Freeman and his wife, Mary Taylor, before the start of a workshop session. Mary, a total sweetheart and a beautiful teacher in her own right, assisted every workshop session.

The YogaRose.net Three Questions series has been on a long hiatus. It’s not because I haven’t been around fascinating teachers (because I have), and it’s not because I haven’t been taking video (because I have). But I try to go with the flow whenever I’m lucky enough to be in the presence of amazing teachers, and if it doesn’t feel right to ask them to answer three questions for the blog, then I don’t. (On a couple of occasions, video would have happened, but we ran out of time — you know how it goes during a short weekend with someone.)

In any case, Three Questions is back with a vengeance (a vertical vengeance, you’ll note). Thanks so much to Richard Freeman for being gracious enough to talk to me at the end of the three-day workshop he held in Columbus, Ohio this past weekend, and to Yoga on High for hosting him.

What is alignment?

You talked earlier about how mula bandha is not something you do, but rather something you serve. Could talk a little about that?

What is the importance of imagery?

As a follow-up question, could you talk about one image you particularly like?

I guess that was technically four questions. It’s hard to stop at three — or 300 — when you’re in his sphere. 

Related links:

>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Thinking of Ashtanga as ‘pranayama for restless people’
>>Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together
>>End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice
>>Dig, or all dug out? Reading Richard Freeman’s ‘The Mirror of Yoga’

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

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

Yoga culture taboo, or sign of the times?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

 

 

 

Radiant sources, power lunches and the influence of all those wordy words

Star Ruby

Dominic had a ring with a mesmerizingly radiant stone, and before I had to say goodbye to him I finally asked him what the stone was. Turns out it was a star ruby. Pictured here is a star ruby housed at the American Museum of Natural History.

Dominic Corigliano, my teacher’s teaching mentor, guest taught at the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor shala this past week during, appropriately enough, the waxing moon — a time when the moon is making its way around the earth, looming larger until it reaches its full state.

When Angela Jamison announced that Dominic was coming, I was looking forward to seeing how this would work. For one thing, yoga students like to meet their teacher’s teacher. I think part of it is awe: Who is this person who inspired someone as inspiring as my teacher? Part of it is curiosity: Will this person be anything like I’ve pictured him or her to be? Part of it is simply excitement.

For another, I’m accustomed to Ashtanga workshops structured around themes: bandhas, adjustments, and so on. So I wondered: What happens during a highly anticipated visit by a Mysore teacher to a highly traditional shala when there were no workshops or guided classes scheduled? How does all the juicy stuff — the subtle and mind-blowingly important observances culled from decades of practice, learning and teaching — get passed on?

~~~

Dominic was wearing a T-shirt with “Shiva” written in a KISS font the first morning I met him, before the Mysore class got underway. He struck me as a down-to-earth ashtangi with a quiet punk rock vibe. HIs adjustments were firm yet gentle, and when he did use words, they were quite matter-of-fact.

By the end of his visit here, I realized I have been drinking from the energetic currents of Dominic’s teachings for years now — much in the same way you are infused with the rhythm and the passion of the pioneering blues masters when you listen to the Rolling Stones’ greatest work.

~~~

"Before, Again II"

“Before, Again II” by Joan Mitchell, housed at the DIA. The image links to a video that discussing the artist’s influences.

The third time I was in his orbit, it was for a visit to the Detroit Institute of the Arts with a small group from AY: A2. I joined the group late, however, and contemplated calling someone’s cell phones when I arrived to avoid the goose hunt of trying to locate half a dozen people in a huge building. For whatever reason, I decided to wing it instead. I walked slowly and tried to let my intuition guide me and I guess I didn’t do too badly, considering that I found them in about five minutes. I squinted down hallways for Angela’s spritely movements, but how I actually found the group was by spotting, for a second, a ponytail gliding down a hallway. Dominic could have been any museum-goer, but there was such a calm about this figure that I figured I was in the right place. He was totally enthralled with the pieces he was viewing when I caught up. One thing I’ve noticed with the senior Western teachers I’ve met: They are so present in everything they do.

~~~

After the DIA, we all headed to a cute little cafe called Le Petite Zinc, a healthy and delicious lunch spot a short drive away. I don’t remember what prompted this, but I asked Dominic about teaching Ashtanga yoga versus teaching its hyper-popular offshoots of power yoga and vinyasa yoga. Dominic knew that I’ve studied with Tim Miller, so he explained that he and Tim go back a long, long way — back to Encinitas, where the power yoga style was inadvertently sparked as they tried to offer Ashtanga in a way that would appeal to settings such as health clubs.

Dominic said tweaks to the method — such as modifying poses for people with knee problems — were always done in the service of trying to help students eventually connect back with the traditional Ashtanga method. The same goes for using music, which Dominic pioneered. He explained that he used music as a way of working with states of hypnosis. (What he didn’t do was use iconic songs with familiar riffs and lyrics the way some of the most popular vinyasa teachers today do.)

~~~

I’m going to pause here to say that yesterday on the Inside Owl blog, Angela reposted one of her posts from 2007, in which she talks about Dominic’s teaching method and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) (emphasis below is mine):

Before putting myself into bhairvasana for the first time today—or rather, letting it take me into itself with another’s guidance—I had feared that it would be something of a long, slow trainwreck: a daily undertaking that could open up my sacroiliac joints to an unsustainable gape. Make me a bag of ligamentless bones by 50.

A year ago, maybe; but my body’s been tilled for this and it’s simply a nice, new little habit that takes me to a previously unknown part of myself.

I can say this only because the way the posture was given made it second nature, if not downright natural. No big deal.

This is because my teacher understands the power of suggestion, and how to relate with a student in or near theta state to create an easy and beautiful reality out of our weirdest possibilities. Not only is this teacher on to the NLP (a comment about establishing rapport the first day made me suspicious), but he just doesn’t complicate the yoga.

Imagine what would have happened had Angela circa 2007 been introduced to this pose — “’Siva’s terrible aspect,’ a posture in honor of the deity’s skull-amulet-bearing, fratricidal side” – in a way laden with verbal cues telling her what the pose would be like or should be like for her.

~~~

Back to the lunchtime conversation. Dominic told me that he approached non-Mysore classes as how to use fewer and fewer words. He put it so well and I wish I had taken notes (actually, that’s not really true — I don’t wish I had taken notes, because that would have destroyed the casual lunch vibe). We basically talked about the constraints placed on students when too many words are used. I was fascinated by whether some of the most seemingly feel-good words in a yoga class can actually serve as distractions from a deeper type of empowerment that could happen if a teacher were to do more of holding space than creating space.

(As we ate our crepes and salads served up at a place dedicated to simple and classic cuisine, it was interesting to think about sourcing Ashtanga instruction the way food is sourced — whether as a consumer only or both a consumer (because all teachers have to be students first) and a producer. No matter what kind of sustenance, tapping into a strong current whose source remains vibrant and clean helps us flourish. What types of food are going into this body? What types of instruction are passing into this nervous system? As a teacher, I need to ask myself whether the words I’m using are organic — what will their effects be? Or am I relying on pretty words with artificial flavorings and empty calories, void of any true nutritional properties?)

And as Dominic talked, I had a flash to a post from earlier this year on Angela’s other blog — the AY: A2 blog — about the poverty of verbal instruction:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Sitting across from Dominic while hearing bits of this blog post rolling around my mind felt a bit like watching time-elapsed parampara.

If you’re not familiar with parampara, it helps to go back to the KPJAYI website (emphasis below is mine):

Parampara is knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It is a Sanskrit word that denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara.
Knowledge can be transferred only after the student has spent many years with an experienced guru, a teacher to whom he has completely surrendered in body, mind, speech and inner being. Only then is he fit to receive knowledge. This transfer from teacher to student is parampara.
The dharma, or duty, of the student is to practice diligently and to strive to understand the teachings of the guru. The perfection of knowledge – and of yoga — lies beyond simply mastering the practice; knowledge grows from the mutual love and respect between student and teacher, a relationship that can only be cultivated over time.
The teacher’s dharma is to teach yoga exactly as he learned it from his guru. The teaching should be presented with a good heart, with good purpose and with noble intentions. There should be an absence of harmful motivations. The teacher should not mislead the student in any way or veer from what he has been taught.
The bonding of teacher and student is a tradition reaching back many thousands of years in India, and is the foundation of a rich, spiritual heritage. The teacher can make his students steady – he can make them firm where they waver. He is like a father or mother who corrects each step in his student’s spiritual practice.
The yoga tradition exists in many ancient lineages, but today some are trying to create new ones, renouncing or altering their guru’s teachings in favor of new ways. Surrendering to parampara, however, is like entering a river of teachings that has been flowing for thousands of years, a river that age-old masters have followed into an ocean of knowledge. Even so, not all rivers reach the ocean, so one should be mindful that the tradition he or she follows is true and selfless.
Many attempt to scale the peaks in the Himalayas, but not all succeed. Through courage and surrender, however, one can scale the peaks of knowledge by the grace of the guru, who is the holder of knowledge, and who works tirelessly for his students.

~~~

It’s only now crystallizing for me that the legacy of Dominic’s teachings have been filtering to me through strong and distinct currents:

  • The power yoga classes I started taking in 2009 as part of a yoga teacher training program I had enrolled in not for the purpose of teaching, but to deepen my understanding of the eight limbs of yoga. (Interesting to reflect on power yoga classes as adaptations — sometimes truer to the original and sometimes highly marketed, far-flung versions of the original — of an Encinitas-based yoga experiment to make the Ashtanga practice more accessible all those years ago.)
  • The clean and direct transmissions as experienced through my embodied teacher’s presence when I am in her room.
  • The way my teacher writes about the practice — from a 2012 blog post about the use of language all the way back to a 2007 post on use of language in a room, as written in the Inside Owl blogger’s voice.

Here I was, having my first true conversation with a man who until now had just been a name and a relationship — Dominic, my teacher’s teacher — and what happens? The conversation we gravitated toward dealt with the subconscious — the not-quite-apparent layers. Manifestations of my teacher were playing at the edges and communicating between us at times, but those versions, while offering something, also provided inadequate words for the experience. Also inadequate was trying to use this conversation as a mirror to check out how all of this energy is being integrated within me, and how it flows out of me when I write and when I teach.

~~~

Looking back over the week, how did transmissions happen? It wasn’t through a guided class. It wasn’t through a workshop lecture. It wasn’t even the words that were actually exchanged at lunch. 

Dominic hopped on a plane out of Detroit yesterday, and I’m wondering if his energy, his physical adjustments, and the post-practice conversation all has to simply be understood. I believe in the power of technology — of social media in particular — to help ashtangis around the world stay connected as a community. But it’s the quieter moments of being in the sphere of brilliant and deeply present teachers like Dominic that reminds me of the limitations of those mediums. What’s being passed on isn’t data — parampara is necessarily so present, so personal.

(Photo credit: “The Midnight Star” via Islespunkfan’s Flickr photostream and “Before, Again II” via Dia.org.) 

© 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visualizing our journeys — on and with — our yoga mats

Two new projects developed by urban ashtangis — one in Chicago and another in Boston — seek to help visualize our relationships with our mats. They’re both about our journeys — on and with — our mats, and they’re both projects you can contribute to.

Morgan Lee’s “The Path of Yoga” Kickstarter project

If enough Kickstarter backers come through, Morgan Lee — a registered nurse, yoga instructor and all-seasons biker in Chicago — will create a photo book documenting his travels with Ashtanga yoga from the perspective of his yoga mat. According to his project’s  Kickstarter page:

I believe that there are no limits to where the physical practice of yoga can take an individual. Through documenting the journey of my travels from the perspective of the mat, I will show that the Path of Yoga is more than practicing postures, asana, and regardless of location steady focus lends to the peace-fullness within the practice. Through the images in this book I will show that no matter where yoga is practiced, it leads to transformation.

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Through the eyes of a yoga mat via the Kickstarter project page for the Path of Yoga

Why the donations?

Using analog 120mm film and a Holga camera (skinny jeans included) to capture a moment from the back edge of the mat creating a ‘dream like’ image, I will compile the images into a book that can be shared with you. Your money will go directly into funding the film and cost of publishing 100 copies of the ‘Path of Yoga’.

This project needs $3,000 in contributions by Oct. 31 to fly. At the time I’m posting this, 32 backers have pledged $1,750. Backers can help support the project with as little as a $1 pledge.

The Runways Gallery

Runways -- screenshot from the Small Blue Pearls websiteLaura Shaw Feit, a book designer from Boston, has recently relaunched the Small Blue Pearls website, and she’s got a lot of energy out of the gate with the Runways Gallery project:

Whether rolling out your Manduka on a silky white beach in Thailand, or sharing space with Mom’s Land Rover in the garage, no matter where you are on this great blue planet all you need is a mat’s worth of space to do what yogis do.

We’re collecting photos from all over the world of the hectic and serene, the dirty and pristine, the cramped and cavernous places people have laid out their mats in order to practice—either when traveling or just in the course of their normal day. Once we have a critical mass of these runways—approximately 750 of them (yeah, we know that’s a lot!)—then we promise you, they will be put to a really good use 😉 Stay tuned! In the meantime, we’ll feature them here on the site.

 

 

 

This project came about this way:

The Runway series was originated by Angela Jamison, founder and teacher at Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2). Inspired by her brother Aaron’s habit of taking photos of everyplace he set up his laptop to work, Angela started taking photos of all the places she found herself practicing. When Aaron saw Angela’s photos, he declared them ‘runways’, which we think is just brilliant. We’d like to say thank you to Angela and Aaron, for the inspiration and the permission to take this fabulous idea and turn it into art.

See if you can spot my iPhone shot of my rug, which was taken in Maui during my honeymoon earlier this year. I have shots from far less glorious locations too, but I’ll have to dig through my iPhoto archives to find them. I know you’ve you’ve got some old photos to dig up too.

© 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.

21 tips for dragging your sleepy butt out of bed to practice yoga in the mornings

Sleepy Puppy

>>Skip to the tips

There’s been a fair amount of ruminations lately about that unique time before and around dawn, and I wonder if it has something to do with the equinox and the changing of seasons. Just this morning, Mysore SF posted this Rumi poem on its Facebook page:

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
Don’t go back to sleep.
You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

A friend of mine in Ohio noted her reflections on finally getting back to the mat today. And the AY: A2 blog recently posted “How to get up for yoga, again,” an update to the shala’s popular 2011 post, “How to wake up for yoga.” Earlier in September, Claudia Yoga posted “7 morning habits for a great yoga practice,” which includes how she deals with social media — what can be a beast lurking in the wee hours of the morning.

I thought about practicing at home in the mornings for years but didn’t manage to actually start trying in earnest until 2011 (“How to wake up for yoga,” along with support and encouragement from my teacher, helped me tremendously). The first months were the hardest, and just this August, I started in on my second year of practicing Ashtanga yoga six days a week. During this relatively short amount of time, I’ve felt tremendous benefits from practicing early in the morning (and I’ve felt the difference between practicing in the morning versus the evening).

So I too have been thinking a lot about how to bridge that gap of getting up early, because I wonder what it would have taken Rose circa 2009 — the one who slept around 2 a.m. every night and didn’t ever think she had the chops to change — to be able to start (starting, for me, was the hardest part).

Below are 21 tips for starting. They’re a mix of things I learned the hard way, advice I received from my teacher and tips from other practitioners.

Will they work for you? Only experimentation will tell.

Sunrise
Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
Because I had practiced for years in the evenings, I had to recalibrate my expectations about how a practice physically feels. I had to accept that when I practice in the morning, my body is cold and stiff. A pretty cool thing happened over the course of a few short months, however: I started minding less and less. The “I’m a natural evening practitioner” mantra I had chanted for so many years had been a myth that I created, bought into, and perpetuated by making others believe it as well. That detachment from needing my body to feel supple led to a greater sense of equanimity with the body I happened to have for that practice, and that ability to find equanimity started extending to other things. In becoming more detached from desiring that yummy factor I was accustomed to from the physical practice, I was working through a process that also helped me clean out my emotional closets.

. . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
I fell in love with this description of pratyhara from the Insideowl blog when I first read it:

Sense withdrawal is not the self-denial we post-Puritans can misunderstand it to be, but a ripening ecstasy of reversing the ever-seeking senses to the inside. Imagine you had two ear trumpets, and two eye searchlights, and so on, so that you could suck your perception inside your bodymind and delight in the yoga of your subtle and subtler selves.

If you can tap into the warm, bright and stimulating carnival of your inner spaces, the room around you may start to matter less to you. Turning your gaze inward won’t happen overnight, but you can help the process along by not staying fixated on the external. Easier said than done, I know, which is why there are 19 more tips to go.

Trumpet

Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
This simple device will save you! I got one of those tall ones that can oscillate if needed, and it cost about $70. It was $70 of the best dollars I spent in 2011.

If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
This gives you one less reason to resist practicing at home (because, let’s face it, unless you have a beautiful yoga room at home, it’s so much nicer to practice at a dedicated yoga studio).

Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
We all love our mats, but we love our beds too. The problem is that a bed — and particularly the pillows on a bed — transform overnight: everything gets softer, plusher and more inviting. So not only do you have to find an alternative to hitting the snooze button, you have to commit to it before you go to bed. Your Plan B might be that when the alarm goes off, you will jump in the shower before you give yourself the chance to hit snooze and fall back into your super comfortable bed.

Start hydrating the night before your practice.

CoconutAshtangis should be well-hydrated anyway, but I found that I had to make a special effort to hydrate at night in order to start a consistent morning practice. (The reason being that one of the big deterrents for me in going from practicing in the evening to practicing in the morning is that I usually wake up feeling totally parched.) What has worked for me: drinking a juice-box-sized coconut water before bed, drinking another one when I wake up, and generally consuming more liquids throughout the day.

On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
After a year of practicing six days a week and mostly in the morning — but not super early morning — I realized that to get my practice to the next level, I would need to start waking up earlier. Otherwise, I would forever be confined to less-than-full-primary-series practices. In terms of time, the gap between 6:45 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. isn’t huge, but experientially, it felt as insurmountable as trying to leap across an ocean. The advice from my teacher, Angela Jamison, to start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before was instrumental in taking that leap. Key to that was thinking about my digestive patterns. Because of my schedule, I normally eat dinner pretty late — sometimes as late as 9:30 or 10 p.m. What has been working for me to wake up in that magical pre-dawn space is to eat no later than 8:30 p.m., and to eat a light dinner (“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” has been a good guideline for me). Experiment, figure out what works best for you digestively, and roll with that as your schedule.

Consume sleepiness . . . 
I drink a little fennel tea before bed, and it’s been lovely. Maybe herbal melatonin is your preferred boost of ZZZs? Perhaps it’s skullcap? (I can’t speak to the latter two, but see the comments found here.)

. . . instead of consuming alcohol.
Wines constantly I know, I know. But it’s just really quite hard to train yourself to wake up super early if you drink the night before, even if it’s a glass of your preferred pinot noir with dinner. Perhaps try it out for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a difference?

Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
If your mornings are typically rushed affairs like mine are, even 5 or 10 minutes can make a big difference. I set out my clothes ahead of time and I set up the coffee pot so that all I have to do is hit start when I get up (see coffee tip below). This prevents an opening to start procrastinating in the morning.

Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
Pattabhi Jois is known for saying, “no coffee, no prana.” I resisted the idea of drinking coffee before practice because I didn’t want to depend on it and because I didn’t have time to make coffee before practice. But now that I’m waking up earlier, I’ve found lately that a few sips has helped me feel warmer and move with a little more oomph. Coffee can dehydrate me, though, so that’s another reason why it’s so important to start hydrating the night before. And by all means, if you can do this without coffee, go for it. But since we’re discussing ways to help get a practice up and running, I think it’s worth a consideration.

Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
A few practitioners I know have morning rituals that include different things — for instance, lighting a candle, burning incense, or dedicating that morning’s practice to someone. For some, it’s reading. Claudia Azula says that for her, “Good yoga literature helps me get inspired in the morning . . .” Good literature would totally derail my morning — I would never get to work on time. Thinking about rituals is a good reminder that so much of this stuff is personal — and if it works for you, roll with it! If it doesn’t, drop it.

.. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
No social media before breakfastUnless I know my work day will absolutely blow up if I don’t address an email right when I get up, I don’t allow myself to get within 10 feet of either of my email inboxes, my Twitter feed or my Facebook page, because if I do, I’ve just lost 20 – 30 minutes of my morning. I force myself to stay clear from the types of distractions that are delivered through mobile devices and laptops because it makes for a less anxiety-ridden practice if I am not worrying about all the work-related things I will need to think about beginning in two hours.

Take a hot shower before practice.
On super cold days when your mettle is still being strengthened, a hot shower can be the perfect external support. Just don’t stay too long and give yourself another space to procrastinate in. 😉

Ramp it up if you have to.
If you are ready to start practicing six days a week right off the bat, awesome! For most of us, it’s hard to go from a sporadic practice to practicing six mornings a week at home, in the cold and dark. Consider committing to practicing three mornings a week at first. Commit, and don’t veer. Enjoy the four days off you have, and do what you need to do to get on the mat those three days. Over the time, the practice might just naturally coax you into practicing additional days a week . . .

Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
My teacher told me to get to the mat, and practice in the time I have — and it was the single most important thing for me to hear. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence this year, Nancy Gilgoff said during one panel discussion about practicing six days a week: “Sometimes your practice may be 15 minutes . . .” See the above tip: I truly believe that over time, the practice will naturally help you find a way to lengthen your time on the mat. In my first year of practice, when I was trying to buy a house, plan a wedding, teach yoga, blog and hold down a deadline-driven full-time job, there were days when I literally was running out of time. The way I gauged a practice was: Did I practice long enough to have to invest something of myself? And did I practice long enough to find a challenge? Practicing for 15 minutes can give you that — investing time that you would have rather been checking to-do items off your list, for instance. As for challenge — well damn, the hardest part of an early morning practice for me is often the sun salutations, when I might be questioning why I am doing this as I body seems to creak with every bend. The good news? It gets easier. It really does. :-)

Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
Hopefully, you have supportive friends and family members. Explain what you’re trying to do. They’re on your side, so if they know how important this is to you, they can start to help support your practice in ways large and small (it might be as simple as moving up the time of a dinner date so that you’re not sleeping so late).

Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
You don’t have to start your own online Way-Before-Breakfast Club like a small group of us did back in August, but if you can find even a couple of yogis to start this journey with you, the camaraderie, support and feedback can be invaluable. You can keep yourself accountable with local yogis, or, if you can’t find any local yogis, we’re living during such an expansive and global world these days — find a couple yogis who live halfway around the world if that’s what ends up working best. Our group of a dozen currently has members from four countries.

Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .  
The other week, I overhead a little boy ask his father who had just finished practicing yoga, “Why do you do yoga?” His dad answered simply, “Because it makes me feel better.” You are trying to practice more consistently because yoga first and foremost makes you feel better, right?

. . . and have a little faith too.
This practice is so evidence-based. As an Ashtanga yoga practitioner, I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to take anything on faith. Instead, you get to try something out and see for yourself how it feels. But I think it helps to have a little faith in the idea that the practice changes if you can find it consistently. (I think we can practice without attachment to a result while still practicing with faith in transformation.) The traditional Ashtanga method is designed in a very particular way, and the effects build — exponentially, it feels sometimes to me — over time. So this is a rare moment when I will say to take my word — and the word of I don’t know how many ashtangis all around the world — who have experienced the difference between practicing randomly all over the map versus practicing consistently six days a week. During those dark mornings when you’re sleepy and stumbling over your two left feet, when you’re cold and crabby and thinking you should just head back to bed, know that it is all worth it. And have faith that you are not alone: There are practitioners all over the world doing the exact same thing, probably feeling lots of the same things you’re feeling.

‘Alchemize your word.’
I love this phrase, and I think of this advice as the yogic translation of Nike’s “Just do it” edict for athletes. The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog began the recent essay about how to wake up for yoga with the advice to “alchemize your word”:

What’s the value of your word? If you say you’re going to do something, is that an ironclad statement? Is it as good as a 50/50 bet? Is your word more like hot air? If you decide strongly that you are going to be a woman or man of your word, then you can use the golden quality of that word to hold yourself to your own intentions.

Here is the whole blog post, which, as I noted at the beginning of this blog post, is essentially part 2 to the 2011 post on how to wake up for yoga.

If you’re a list type of person, here’s a summary:

  • Don’t expect a yummy physical practice . . .
  • . . . but acquire a taste for a delicious inner practice.
  • Unless you live in a truly tropical climate, invest in a space heater if you are practicing at home.
  • If you practice at home on carpet, invest in a LifeBoard.
  • Determine a Plan B for the snooze button — and commit to it the night before.
  • Start hydrating the night before your practice.
  • On that note, start thinking in terms of your practice starting the night before.
  • Consume sleepiness . . .
  • . . . instead of consuming alcohol.
  • Set up everything — and I mean everything — the night before.
  • Consider a few sips of coffee before practice.
  • Think about whether you need some rituals to set your space . . .
  • .. . . and also think about what you should avoid doing in the morning.
  • Take a hot shower before practice.
  • Ramp it up if you have to.
  • Don’t set unreasonable goals — and practice for however much time you have.
  • Tell your friends and family about what you’re trying to do.
  • Find a little group of yogis to help keep yourself accountable
  • Don’t lose sight of your what you’re doing this for . . .
  • . . . and have a little faith too.
  • ‘Alchemize your word.’

Happy practicing!

(Photo credit: Sleepy puppy by Nicole Kelly; Coconut and trumpet via Stock.Xchng)

© 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.

Evening yoga practice vs. morning yoga practice

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I’ve been doing pretty well, relatively speaking, in my effort to wake up earlier each morning to get in a fuller Ashtanga yoga practice — working through full primary most days, plus playing with pasasana. Last night I meditated for a few minutes before bed, and my head was comfortably on the pillow by 11 p.m., which is only half an hour later than my new bedtime goal (that’s better than usual). Tomorrow will be great! I thought.

Um. I never hit the snooze button this morning, but I didn’t wake up either. I ended up getting out of bed with only enough time to get ready for work. Oops.

It’s been months since I’ve done my home practice in the evening, and I had two main observations about my practice at dusk:

  • I had forgotten how delicious it feels to practice later in the day, when your body isn’t as cold and stiff.
  • On the mental front, I was using my practice reactively rather than proactively.

The first one is pretty straightforward. As for the second . . . work was draining today, and I realized I was using the practice to try to erase all the little irritants that had accumulated in my body — drip, drip, drip straight into my upper back — and in my mind. This is how I practiced for years: shedding my day on the mat. It’s a beautiful use of a yoga asana practice, and how wonderful that we have that option.

The proactive versus the reactive was interesting to reflect on. If my koshas were like hardwood floors, practicing in the morning feels like adding a nice, smooth protective coat. (I’m standing at our kitchen island while I type this, noticing how beautiful the shiny hardwood floors look.) In the evening, it would be more akin to scrubbing away that day’s dirt and grime on a surface that’s only lightly treated.

I better stop here and start getting ready for bed. Tomorrow’s another long day, and I need any added treatment I can get.

Treated hardwood floors

© 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.

Good day, moon

Goodnight Moon by brilianthues Flickr

I live in the ‘burbs now (how did this happen again?), and one thing I’ve noticed lately about this Midwestern subdivision is that while there are definite rhythms, all of them are based on human-directed events. On Labor Day, like clockwork, curbsides were empty because trash pick-up was delayed by a day due to the holiday. Post-Labor Day, with the start of school, cars predictably started to clog the main street out of our subdivision, with parents shuttling their kids to elementary school. Except for the light gardening that goes on, the closest the neighborhood seemed to get to being at one with natural cycles this summer was when families, each bemoaning the drought, set their sprinkler system to run.

As I start my second year of trying to maintain a six-day-week Ashtanga home practice, I’ve noticed that I’ve become more and more intrigued by the idea of being more attuned to something other than manmade timetables or manmade inventions — birth control is what I think of first — that impose an artificial rhythm on us. Hitting up farmers’ markets this summer has helped me be less preference-driven (I only love to eat mangos all year long!) and more open to eating fruits actually being harvested locally — currently — rather than shipped in or otherwise artificially brought to us during the wrong time of year.

Tomorrow is a new moon — which in the Ashtanga tradition means we take a day of rest. This month, both moon days happen to fall on Saturdays, which are also the weekly days of rest. Where I look the calendar and see a more challenging month because I have two fewer days off from practice, Insideowl sees cyclical clicking:

For Mysore practice, the moons fall on the calendar’s Saturday free spaces all the way until mid-October. The Gregorian rhythm (Saturday rests) and the Hindu ritual rhythm (moon day rests) are moving in their biannual phase of alignment. Click. I love it when this happens.

On that note, I need to get back to today’s calendar-scheduled rhythm of work and personal to-dos — which has been, until now, the only rhythm I truly allowed to determine my groove.


By the way, if the whole moon day thing is new to you, here is how Tim Miller explains it:

Both full and new moon days are observed as yoga holidays in the Ashtanga Yoga tradition. What is the reasoning behind this?

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Goodnight Moon by Brillianthues’ Flickr photostream)

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

 

Lost yoga ring found! (Insert your own symbolism.)

Yoga ring with "Do your practice and all is coming" etched on it.

In 2009, I ordered a custom spinning ring from a beautiful Etsy shop — it’s the ring you see in the blog’s current header. Inside the ring I had asked the designer to etch Pattabhi Jois’ famous saying: “Do your practice and all is coming.” I lost that ring a year later, and as I recently wrote, I decided against ordering a replacement because 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.

Padmasana with Tim Miller

Photo taken in 2010 by Michelle Haymoz.

Today, I had to clear out my super messy car because I’m taking a caravan of hip young Lansing-based coworkers for a little drive to Ann Arbor for their first Intro to Ashtanga Yoga class with my teacher. In cleaning out the car, I found my ring! Not in some crazy crevice, but buried deep in the crap shoved into my glove compartment.

All this time, I had had no clue that the ring was actually quite close, just an arm’s reach away.

So, feel free to spin your own symbolism into this story. I have.

>>Related?: A girl and a guru

© 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.

An elevator pitch for a steady, consistent yoga practice? (Or, thank neuroplasticity for what happens when your brain is on yoga.)

Elevator via Zero-X's photostream

I spent four hours yesterday listening to a replay of Yoga Injuries: Facts and Fiction, a telesummit organized by Yoga U, a platform for high-profile yoga teachers to host webinars. Not multitasking is not my strong suit, so while I posted a bit about it on the YogaRose.net Facebook page, I mainly used this span of time to listen to the interviews with eight speakers while cleaning out my home office space — the last room of our new house to receive a cleaning-out-the-closets treatment.

The cleaning-out was great. So was the telesummit — particularly the first two speakers. Roger Cole rocked out a refutation of the infamous New York Times article by William Broad that triggered the telesummit (I think paying for the full pass for the event would probably be worth it for this segment alone), and Timothy McCall, M.D., the medical editor for Yoga Journal, provided some juicy elevator pitches for the benefits of yoga.

I say “elevator pitch” probably because I enjoy teaching beginning yoga students and find myself thinking about how to quickly explain the benefits of yoga, and because I work in the public relations arena, in which you frequently need to assess whether your clients have a clear sense of their goals and objectives. What message are they trying to get across? Can they distill it into a pitch short enough to make during an elevator ride? If they can’t, maybe the overarching message is too muddled.

Anyway, based on his presentation, I looked up some of McCall’s past work and found a little gem. Unless you’re in an elevator ride gone awry, McCall’s 2009 piece titled “Your Brain on Yoga” is a tad too long to qualify as an elevator pitch, but at a brisk 332 words, it’s still a short, breezy and extremely accessible read. I’m sure there are excellent distillations out there, but this is one of the best I’ve stumbled over that supports, from a scientific and holistic point of view, why we should practice yoga consistently:

When I was in medical school in the 1980s, we were taught that after a certain stage of childhood development, the architecture of the brain was fixed. Brain cells, or neurons, couldn’t be replaced; at best, we could slow the rate of their loss by cutting down on alcohol and other damaging habits.

But now, due to the growing sophistication of neuroimaging technology like PET scanners and functional MRIs, we understand that brain structure can change over time based on what we do. Recent research shows that even aging brains can add new neurons.

Scientists coined the term neuroplasticity to refer to the brain’s ability to reshape itself, confirming what the yogis have been teaching for millennia—the more you think, say, or do something, the more likely you are to think, say, or do it again. With every activity, neurons forge connections with one another, and the more a behavior is repeated, the stronger those neural links become. As neuroscientists like to say, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali offers a recipe for success in yoga: steady and enthusiastic practice without interruption over a long period of time. This ideal formula takes advantage of neuroplasticity to rewire the brain. Swami Vivekananda once said, “The only remedy for bad habits is counter habits.” As your yoga practice deepens over time, it becomes a strong new habit that can compete with old patterns.

In yoga, you are systematically awakening your ability to feel what’s happening in your body, heart, and mind. As your awareness becomes more refined, it can guide you in all areas of your life. You begin to observe which foods make you feel best, which work you find most fulfilling, which people bring you joy—and which ones have the opposite effects.

The key is steady practice—whether it’s asana, pranayama, meditation, chanting, visualization, service, or all of the above. Just a little bit every day is enough to steer you step-by-step toward true transformation.

 

Establishing new habits to compete with old ones . . . in the telesummit, McCall talked about how that is a weakness of the medical system — when people are told to quit smoking or eat healthier or whatever the case may be, but aren’t given any tools to create new habits. I know nothing except for yoga has ever truly worked for me when it comes to trying to be a less reactive person, to eat better, etc. etc. — so where would I be right now if I didn’t have these tools?

I’ve been writing quite a bit lately about how redirecting my practice pattern — practicing at least a little bit six mornings a week versus only a few evenings a week — has totally !!! my world. (By the way, I do promise to blog about something else soon! :-) ) I wondered if I could distill the neuroplasticity idea even further — into the 140 characters of a tweet — and ashtanga-fy it a bit (not because other methods don’t work, but because this is the only method I can personally attest to) while alluding to the concepts of a conditioned mind and illusions that arise from the Yoga Sutras. I came up with:

Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.

What do you think?

What would your elevator pitch be?

Pain relief?

So what is it that happens when we are capable of practicing detachment?

Bringing this up reminds me of workshop I attended last year with orthopedic surgeon, yoga practitioner and author Ray Long, M.D. I loved how he brought up painkillers in an analogy for how yoga helps decrease human suffering. I am paraphrasing big time here, but basically, he discussed how local anesthesia works to numb an area, while morphine works on the central nervous system. What people have recounted about being on morphine is that they are still aware of the pain, but it doesn’t bother them.

I’ve heard Tim Miller use a line he got from a Vedic astrologer in India: Yoga makes us human shock absorbers. And I just found this interview with David Swenson in which he responds to a question about finding peace (definitely not an elevator pitch, but good stuff):

I think that peace just means, that even though I may die today, I’m living my purpose. And that’s the peace. It doesn’t mean that there’s no stress in life. It doesn’t mean that we just float along and there’s never any problem. Peace just means that we feel like we’re living the life that we should be living. And many times we have to live a lot of lives that we realise we shouldn’t be, in order to find out what we should be doing. It’s an ongoing journey. To find balance, sometimes we have to understand imbalance by moving through extremes. In my life there have been different extremes… to swing like a pendulum. And the balance or the peace comes from the middle road. As humans we find it easier to live in extremes, “I’ll only do this. I’ll never do that.” That’s where religion plays a part, where you’re just told to do this and that and you follow. But peace comes from some sort of inner feeling that the life we’re living is a life that we should be living. And it doesn’t have to be that you’re in a monastery, or that you’re doing some grandiose thing. It could be aligned with raising your children, getting them to soccer games on time, being at peace with the life that we have chosen, or the life that has chosen us, but finding our place within that. Certainly I can’t say that every moment at the day I’m walking around in some bliss bubble. Certainly I have problems, I have stresses, or I get upset. But underneath all that, as a yogi, we learn to observe our emotions, these ups and downs, and we try not to become too attached to one of them. Great joy or great sadness, both of those are going to change. Instead of this rollercoaster ride, we can become the observer, but it doesn’t mean that we’re some emotionless robot.

Shanti.

(Photo credit: Elevator photo via Zero-X’s Flickr photostream.)

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

 

A yoga room of one’s own

 

Yoga room

When my husband and I started the hunt for our first home back in February, we had a hard time settling on what we wanted. Neither one of us had grown up in one home. His parents were ninjas at fixing up houses, so he lived in about eight different addresses growing up. (Incredibly, all these homes were located in one tiny — as in, population: less than 1,200 — town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.) My family seemed to move from one region of the country to another every five to seven years, so what I knew growing up consisted mostly of rentals.

We were set on one thing, however: We needed to find something in our price range that allowed me to have a yoga room, and gave him space for his guitars. At some point during every open house visit we made, Scott would ask, “So which one would be the yoga room?” Usually it was obvious, and when it wasn’t, that house had no chance of making the cut.

When we walked into the house we eventually closed on in May (the same week as our wedding, no less), we knew it was the one. There was one bedroom that had been used as an office, so it lacked a closet and featured interesting display shelves. The room faced east, had a skylight, and featured double French doors. I felt as if I had won the yoga room lottery, especially given how unideal our apartment had been when it came to a home practice.

The French doors were beautiful, but I did want some modicum of privacy, to maintain the  sense that this space is separate from the rest of the house on both a practical level and a symbolic one. So, after we moved in in late June, my father-in-law and husband covered up the glass panes with beautifully delicate rice paper.

Yoga room window

The centerpiece of the room is a stone tray with a Ganesha puja spoon and a Ganesha murti. Ganesha, son of Shiva, is the lord of thresholds and new beginnings, and it’s fitting inspiration for me on so many levels. I wrote about this in my last blog post.

Ganesha part of yoga room

To the left of Ganesh is a Nandi bell, which I picked up at the Ashtanga Yoga Center based on my fascination with, and affinity toward, Shiva thanks to his seemingly paradoxical — though ultimately, it’s basically a seamless dynamic — energy of creation and destruction.

Nandi bell

To the right of the Ganesha centerpiece is a crater bowl formed using Maui clay that I picked up during my honeymoon in May. The lava-like nature is a result of being pulled from a burning inferno at temperatures exceeding 2,000 degrees, and the molten pieces are placed in pits filled with leaves and Koa wood shavings. Thinking about fire, smoke and raw elements – and what they can do together – reminds me of the sacred fire of tapas that can transform an ashtangi on such a deep level.

Raku bowl

I love the incarnation of Shiva as Nataraja. I picked this up the last time I was Yoga on High  in Columbus, Ohio.

Nataraja

I have a penchant for collecting Ashtanga yoga practice cards, and on one shelf, I’ve displayed some of the cards I own.  Beyond being graphically gorgeous, I think practice cards are great reminders that while the physical practice of the Ashtanga system is a traditional, set sequence, it has elements of fluidity. Poses do change somewhat, depending on when the practitioner studied in Mysore. The slight differences from one practice card to another offer reminders that while the design of the sequence is brilliant, it does change to accomodate different types of practitioners, different time periods, and different areas of focus. I think if we can embrace the power of the tradition without holding on too tightly to rigid rules (two paschimottanasanas! no, four!), we can remain more fluid and enhance our ability to receive a particular moment’s lesson.

Practice cards

On one of the shelves sits a frame my mom made for me. In Thai is written, “Everything in this world is created, is sustained, and fades away.” She made that for me to help me during a time when I hated my job. I needed to be reminded that this job — and my whole situation in life at the time — would not last forever. I know the flip side is also true, so while I am grateful for everything I have right now — fresh off a wedding, honeymoon, and the grounded blissfulness of having your own new space in which to make a new start — I know that life’s ups and downs will continue to take their course.

Thai plaque

The other shelves hold yoga books, along with binders, folders and notebooks that contain the notes I’ve taken during workshops and trainings over the years.

The yoga room also houses my meditation cushion, which I hope to start using more frequently than I am now (finding a daily sitting practice is my goal for the latter half of 2012).

One final note: the yoga room currently has carpet. When funding allows (perhaps 2014, at the rate I’m going?), I’d like to replace the carpeting with bamboo floors. Right now, though, I’m practicing on my LifeBoard in this perfect space, and all is good.

© 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.

Retreat dispatch: A simple (though maybe not easy) way to ratchet down reactivity

The Stone Arch event space

The Stone Arch event space in Saline, Mich.

Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor‘s summer retreat was held this weekend inside the Stone Arch, a beautiful and expansively intimate church-turned-event-space located in a cute Michigan town called Saline. This was my third retreat with Angela Jamison of AY: A2, and, as with any good yoga workshop, each one of these seasonal confabs has offered me an array of inspirational, intellectual and practice-based nourishment. Some I digest right away (along with, I should mention, actual tasty nourishment in the form of fantastic lunches), and some I can’t until much later.

Something I digested in real time today had to do with an exploration of how to decrease your reactivity during potentially tension-filled situations — whether that’s at an academic talk, a corporate meeting or a personal conversation. There’s a one-word answer and then a longer answer. The one-word answer: Listen. (If you’ve already started judging this word, hold on — listen for a couple paragraphs longer.) The longer answer requires a look at a person’s five koshas, or sheaths. Koshas go from the outside in, starting with gross manifestations (the body) and move toward more subtle ones:

  • Annamaya kosha: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosha: Energy body
  • Manomaya kosha: Mental body
  • Vijnanamaya kosha: Wisdom body
  • Anandamaya kosha: Blissful body

Rather than starting to build up your own wall of defenses — your feeling on the matter, your justifications, or whatever it may be — while someone else is talking, try really listening. Become very, very receptive to what is said, rather than work off a loop of assumptions and proactive counterarguments. The self-help industry is full of advice of listening, but in this yogic framework of koshas, what you’re doing is allowing a quick downshift from the mental body to the wisdom body, and allowing reactions to come from a more refined place. It’s not easy to let go this way, but the payoff can be tremendous.

I seriously love framing this shift in consciousness like this, because I do this. I. Do. This. I do this all the time, in fact. I don’t consider myself overly analytical, but probably starting with my time on the high school speech and debate team and on through my work in deadline-driven professionals, I’ve always seen arguments — even healthy ones — as an us versus them proposition with winners, losers and a ticking clock. Time is limited. Get your idea out there before a worse one gains popularity. (Working in corporate America has done nothing but reinforce my patterns.)

Speaking of digestion . . . in my ongoing efforts to start waking up at 5:30 a.m. six days a week to practice, Angela has suggested that I stop eating dinner at my usual 8, 9 or 10 p.m. and try to eat earlier. The retreat flew by today, and between that, the 75-minute drive home, and a quick errand on the way home, it’s getting awfully close to my usual dinnertime. I have lots of great vegetables from yesterday’s trip to Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown Famers Market, so I better go.

© 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.

 

Shut up and play the quiet

My concert buddy and I drove an hour west to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Mich. last night to watch Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final, epic (I think “epic” is the right word here) show at Madison Square Garden. It’s a superbly executed music documentary that includes snippets of a great interview of James Murphy led by Chuck Klosterman — thought-provoking and entertaining stuff.

While watching, I thought a little about how much my music tastes have changed. I used to only listen to bands that had the typical rock or pop construction of guitar chords, refrains, etc. Over time, though, I’ve been increasingly drawn to bands that don’t stick to the template — bands like LCD Soundsystem and, more recently, Caribou. These outfits create soundscapes, including lyrics when they’re needed and not including them when they’re not.

I’m a journalist by training, so words are the tools of my trade. But more and more and in different situations, the mantra of “less is more” (something my favorite journalism professor always stressed) has been sinking in. From filler lyrics to the thoughts that run on a loop in our heads, words can clutter so much of our external and internal spaces.

Over the past 11 months, as I’ve been working to deepen my Ashtanga yoga practice by committing to practicing six days a week, I’ve noticed I’m more able to tolerate stillness and quietness while working, running errands or doing stuff around the house. (A big exception is that I do already love quiet yoga rooms — the less chatter, the better.) I used to rely on having a TV on, or music playing, when at home. Basically, these days, I don’t feel the symptoms of withdrawal from chatter/sounds/white noise as frequently or intensely. And I wonder if part of my shifting music tastes is my ability to enjoy more space in my soundscapes. As strange as my description may sound, a track like “Bowls” feels like it has more room now to pulse and resonate.

Speaking of less is more on the monkey mind front: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page had this recommendation yesterday:

So if you’re looking for meditation | remixed, give this meditation app a try. I’ve been so swamped lately, but I’ll check out ReWire one of these days — along with another fascinating app called Brain Wave, which says it “uses sequences of binaural tones combined with soothing ambient nature sounds and atmospheric music to stimulate specific brainwave frequencies and induce different states of mind. Includes programs for sleep.” I don’t know anything about binaural tones, but my concert buddy just told me Pearl Jam had an album that used this technique — titled, appropriately enough, Binaural.

Side note: I found out today that LCD Soundsystem-affiliated Juan Maclean practices Ashtanga yoga, and travels to Mysore. You can find the whole interview here (you’ll have to scroll down — I didn’t see any anchors) and here’s an inspiring snippet:

How has yoga now improved your working life as a DJ?

“I practice six days a week no matter where I am or what I’ve done the night before. It has been enormously helpful in keeping my body functioning while maintaining an insane travel schedule. Sitting on planes has become a major job hazard. The yoga gets my blood flowing again, stretches out all those tightened muscles, relieves inflammation, and helps with jet lag.”

How has yoga changed you as a person?

“It’s a little embarrassing but I had a bad anger problem, I would get totally out of control. There were a couple of incidents that were well documented on the internet, much to the dismay of my mother, where I had physically assaulted people while DJing. Whether my actions were justified or not, beating someone up in the middle of a DJ set is completely ridiculous. Since practicing Ashtanga, I’ve calmed down immensely. It’s also made me a generally nicer person.”

So cool to see a DJ who travels extensively make the traditional practice happen! Rock on, Maclean!

(Photo credit: Hierophant’s Facebook page)

© 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.

David Robson releases instructional video on jumping back and through

Online video rental and DVD available of David Robson’s latest instructional video, Learn to Float: Jump Back and Jump Through

(As featured in Saraswati’s Scoop, the news section of YogaRose.net)


David Robson of Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto has released a new video in his Learn to Float series. I’ve written three blog posts related to Robson’s well-produced Learn to Float DVD, and I’m looking forward to ordering this new addition to the Learn to Float family.

What’s so interesting to me about the jump-back and jump-through — a challenge so specific to the Ashtanga yoga system — is that it can seem kind of hypocritical to the new yoga student. “Ashtanga is not about how to become a gymnast,” instructors will say. Sometimes, as an instructor, you feel you can hear the internal dialogue of a student push back. “Yeah? So why does this practice include jumping through?”

Why? A few reasons — some of which I’m sure I haven’t even explored yet. But for one, these motions, which we go through in between poses, build strength in key places and very compassionately keep up our internal heat.

David Robson's instructional video on jumping back and jumping through

Screenshot from David Robson’s instructional video on jumping back and jumping through

For me personally, the float-throughs have been incredibly instructive on the level of recalibrating my perceptions of what’s possible. So many students — myself included — want to give up before starting to even try to float back and float through. The arguments sound logical enough: Either “My arms aren’t long enough” or “I’m not strong enough.” For those of us with short arms, the arms-not-long argument will always be true — it’s not like we can go to Home Depot to buy arm extenders. So what we have to do is work on the strength part. But how much strength is needed is deceptive. If you try to brute force the jumping back part, for instance, you are going to have to build up what I consider to be massive amounts of strength. But if you tip forward (while smartly use your head as a counterweight) instead of trying to launch straight up from the mat, a lot less sheer strength is needed. So the “Am I capable?” part of the equation turns instead to a question of “How do I find the right teachers to show me the way?” Huge difference in starting assumptions and, therefore, huge difference in approach.

To learn more about the video, head over to its official page.

By the way: An article in this past Sunday’s The Globe and Mail that quotes David Robson has been making the rounds among ashtangis lately. Check out the Confluence Countdown’s recap.

>>Update 8/25/12: Reading Tanya Lee Markul’s review of this DVD, published on elephant journalhas reminded me that while this DVD is in my queue, I have not yet any time to get to it! Maybe post-Labor Day? (Crosses fingers.) Most recently, as the faithful readers among you know, I’ve been happily tied up with the Way-Before-Breakfast Club for morning-challenged ashtangis. 😉  

© 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.

 

Unpacking my patterns of excess

Featured

Packing up -- so many boxes

I know I’m in good company when I say that I don’t enjoy the moving process. Packing up belongings is hardest — the unpleasant surprises you unearth, the reminders of challenging people or periods in your life, the discomfort of tossing crap you want to shed but that you’re not quite ready to let go of quite yet. Unpacking at least allows for new beginnings of sorts — old item, new place.

This weekend, I listened to an old Yoga Peeps podcast with James Bailey on the science of ayurveda while tackling the emotionally toughest section of the apartment for me — stacks of old personal and professional documents that should have been recycled or shredded years ago.

In any case, the part of the podcast that struck me most was when the interviewer asked Bailey about whether he sees recurring patterns. Yes, he said — the vast majority of tendencies you’ll see in Western cultures are patterns of excess:

We tend to see an overnourishment of the body, overnourishment of the tissues. There were times in our ancestors’ histories and their lives where deficiencies were the threat to society. . . . But these days, these nutrients are available in mass quantities and overmanufuactured, basically. So we have proteins and fats and sugars and carbohydrates that are available and cheap — really cheap. Anybody can afford to get access to these nutrients, and in ungodly amounts, lending towards severe diseases of excess. . . . Obesity is one, diabetes is one, cancers and some growths and tumors are others — hypertension and so on. These are the diseases of our day — chronic because they are lifestyle-based. They come down to choices. (This section stars roughly around 17:45 in the podcast.)

A pack rat by nature, and surrounded by stacks of slips of paper I should have slipped out of my life long ago, that observation deeply resonated. At least moving forces you to go through piles and open boxes and make decisions about how many physical mementos linked to emotional baggage you want to carry on with you to the next space you occupy.

And I started to wonder whether one of the more potent — and therefore emotionally difficult — aspects of maintaining a consistent Ashtanga practice is that you are confronted each day by some manifestation of excess in your life. Yes, you have to face areas of depletion as well — for starters, there’s lack of sleep, lack of hydration, lack of will, lack of time and lack of space.

But areas of excess require decisions to let go. In the beginning, there’s the typical realization of too much fat on the body (or, to put it more politely, adipose tissue), too much food in the belly, too much stress absorbed into muscles. Looking back, I think I had worked marichyasana D as far as I could (given the proportions of my arms to the rest of the my body) when Tim Miller basically looked and me and suggested I consider shedding a few kilos (this reminds of a blog post title that made me laugh: “Marichyasana D — ‘D’ is for diet“). Looking back, I think he was right — but it would be some time before I was motivated to make any real lifestyle changes.

Every day, month after month, year after year, you can choose to face your areas of physical, mental and emotional excesses and not change anything about your life off the mat — it seems to me that the practice doesn’t judge. On a personal level, what I have found after nine months of a consistent practice is that the desire to continue habits of excess starts to diminish on its own. And thank god, because I still don’t have the willpower to totally avoid, for instance, cheesy breadsticks even though I know there is nothing to gain, from a nutritional point. (Literally as I’ve been writing this paragraph, my husband offered me a bite of his breadstick and I totally took one, because it looked pretty damn good.) The difference now is that I’m pretty satisfied with, say, one bite, whereas a couple years ago, I would have probably eaten two or three breadsticks.

Diet-wise, I feel that my body’s intelligence about what I consume has been dusted off and is slowly but surely gaining authority in this mind-body system of mine. I am quite certain I have to credit practice for this — I don’t see other factors in my lifestyle that could have triggered the change. These days, I don’t feel like I have to consult labels or more gastronomically yogic friends — for the most part, I have a sense of what will feel good after I eat it and what won’t. Last week, for instance, I was stuck in a six-hour-long website writing and editing session. When I was asked what I wanted to order for lunch, I got my sandwich, but I insisted on one of those ginormous cookies as well. I knew, going in, that I would enjoy it then, but feel it a couple hours later. But the trade-off was worth it to me. (If you’ve ever been stuck in  marathon sessions related to building websites, you probably know what I mean.) So I still have patterns of excess — don’t even get me started on the criminally delicious ice cream cake my colleagues got me last week for a belated birthday gathering — but at least I am being present when those decisions are made.

Well, I suppose I should get back to packing up my stuff so we can finishing moving out of this little one-bedroom apartment into a house. I am really hoping and determined to check my pattern of excess — as it relates to useless and no longer necessary stuff, anyway — at the door of this new home. Wish me luck — and the good instincts that seem to develop from continued practice.

© 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.

Hello from Maui

Hello — I mean, aloha — from Maui, in which I savor the fourth day of my honeymoon. (The gap in blogging represents the last several weeks of homestretch wedding planning. The wedding itself was this past Sunday, on May 20. It was a new moon that day, which I am told made for an auspicious day for nuptials. On a more practical level, I was thrilled to not have to get up before 5 a.m. to practice, since my hair appointment was brutally early at 7:45 a.m.)

Anyway, Wailea Beach is a stunning place to be. If you’ve been lucky enough to be here at some point, you know. If you haven’t been here yet, just add wind, sun, good vibes, the refreshing smell of salt water and a collective, deep sense of enjoying the moment to get the idea:

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I get how back in the day, ashtangis like David Williams and Brad Ramsey, who had the good fortune to be in SoCal, went to Maui and somehow decided to not leave. I mean, any place that makes Encinitas seem . . . well, just OK, is pretty amazing.

As a California girl now setting down roots Michigan, I feel deprived most of the time of vitamin D and the liberating sounds of a coastal town. But it’s more than that. I am most in my element in the heat — when my skin feels warm to the touch. I feel most capable of dealing with life’s challenges, and I feel most at peace. Not surprisingly, I have enjoyed, and appreciated, every minute Scott and I have been here in Maui. I mean, take a look at the view from Ashtana Yoga Maui Mysore Style, a relatively new studio in the town of Pa’ia:

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Pa’ia, by the way, is near where Nancy Gilgoff’s studio is located. Nancy isn’t in town at the moment, so I’ll have to miss out on feeling her shakti in her home studio this time around.

I’m not blogging to share honeymoon photos — that’s the other blog — I’m blogging to share a not totally formed thought on sense of place. Here’s my practice spot outside my hotel room:

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Crazy! I won’t lie — sustained dishti can be a challenge. You sort of want to let your eyes sweep the ocean view before returning to the focal point of your nose in up dog. As they would hashtag on Twitter, I know this is the stuff of #firstworldproblems. I would be happy to be challenged by this type of drishti distraction, and I honestly think it would feel like less effort to sustain the six-day-a-week practice.

But I don’t live in Maui. I no longer live in California. I live in the middle of the Mitten State. Being here has reminded me of how much place can matter, even if you have your mat as your daily refuge. It’s true that if you have your tristana, you have what matters. You could be surrounded by a mess of boxes and practicing on carpet, and none of that matters one iota, because you are doing the yoga practice that is liberating you incrementally, day by day.

But for me, going away is inspirational for the return to my home base. Much like I learned by going to Mt. Shasta last year, short trips away can help me shed layers of baggage I might have with the place that I have to call home — physically, where I live, and emotionally, in the mental spaces I inhabit. What I hope to bottle from Maui is that overarching sense that you can move a little slower on all fronts — starting with driving! — and still be living to the fullest.

P.S. — I just saved the draft of this post and told Scott, “I just wrote a blog post but I have no idea if it makes any sense or not.” Without skipping a beat, he said, “Who cares?”

:-)

Workshop dispatch: Primary series (Yoga Chikitsa)

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice.

This is the next in a “Workshop dispatch” series based on the workshops I took with Tim Miller at Yoga on High in Columbus, Ohio from Friday, April 13, 2012 through Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Tim has taught annually in Columbus for 14 years. This year, he held his traditional weekend (Friday through Sunday) program, but debuted a new intensive program (Monday through Wednesday). Each day of the three-day intensive focused on a different series of the practice. In the mornings, we chatted a little bit and then did a practice that could run up to 2.5 hours (to allow time to do several research, or prep, poses, during the second and third series). In the afternoon, we could ask questions, go over problem spots and generally discuss the practice. (Full workshop description here.) What follows are notes and thoughts from Day 1 of the intensive, which examined the primary series.  

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“You guys are the guinea pigs,” Tim Miller told us on Day 1 of the One-Day Yoga Intensives portion of his annual Yoga on High program. Pretty cool place to be for the roughly 40 of us in the room. Some of us had traveled from out of state, others were Yoga on High teachers, and several in the room were enrolled in Yoga on High’s  teacher training program. (As a side note, I think it’s very cool that Ashtanga students enrolled in YOHI’s teacher training are required to take Tim Miller’s workshops.)

Gunas

Over the course of the three-day intensive, Tim talked about the qualities of each of the series as they relate to the gunas and the pancha kosas (five sheaths). In The Heart of YogaT.K.V. Desikachar describes gunas simply as “qualities of the mind; qualities of the universe). In a nutshell, there are three gunas:

  • Sattva, which possesses the quality of harmony
  • Rajas, which possesses the quality of activity
  • Tamas, which possesses the quality of inertia.

Tim was careful to note during the workshops that while we often think of the quality of being sattvic as being the most desirable of the gunas, we need all three for balance. “It’s easy to say tamas is bad, sattvic is good and rajas is mixed,” Tim said. “But you need all three. We are always trying to find balance between these qualities.”

Since we’re on the topic, here is what B.K.S. Iyengar says about the gunas in Light on Life:

As I said, the guna is made up for three complementary forces. They are: tamas (mass or inertia), rajas (vibrancy or dynamism), and sattva (luminosity or the quality of light).

Let us look at a practice example. In asana, we are trying to broach the mass of our gross body, to break up the molecules and divide them into atoms that will allow our vision to penetrate within. Our body resists us. It is muleish. It will not budge. Why? Because in body tamas predominates. It has to. Body needs mass, bones need density, and sinew and muscle need solidity and firmness….

With regard to asana practice, this means that initially we need to exert ourselve more as resistance is greater. Of the two aspects of asana, exertion of our body and penetration of our mind, the latter is eventually more important. Penetration of our mind is the goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.

But once there is movement and then momentum, penetration can start. When effort becomes effortless, asana is at its highest level. Inevitably this is a slow process, and if we break off our practice, inertia reasserts itself. What we are really doing is infusing dense matter with vibrant energy. That is why good practice brings a feeling of lightness and vitality. Though the mass of our body is heavy, we are meant to tread lightly on this earth. (pp. 45-46)

The overarching quality of the primary series, relative to the other series, would be tamasic. Second series: rajastic. Third series, sattvic.

Pancha koshas

In general, the sheaths go from the grossest (most physical) to more subtle manifestations.

  • Annamaya kosa: Physical body
  • Pranamaya kosa: Energy body. This is the body of chakras.
  • Manomaya kosa: Body of mental (and emotional) impressions. You find samskaras (habits, conditioning) here.
  • Vijnanamaya kosa: The body of the buddhi (intellect).
  • Anandamaya kosa: Blissful body. The place of the soul. The place of unconditioned awareness. (Iyengar refers to this sheath as the divine body.)

It was very helpful for me that Tim discussed the sheaths as one of those nesting Russian dolls.

Primary series

Whew. That’s a lot of necessary lead in. Let’s get to the primary series itself. Primary series — Yoga Chitiksa (“Yoga Therapy,”) works most on the outer doll. The physical sheath. Tim noted that if we work on one doll, it does affect the other dolls.

The first series has a slew of health benefits, as anyone who has practiced the series consistently understands. It is designed to:

  • Restore the body
  • Detox us
  • Restore natural range of motion to our joints
  • Restore sensitivity to our sense organs

The practice also helps to reduce excess adipose tissue (yep, that’s body fat).

Think of all the forward folds and twists in the first series (if you’re new to the series, you can see the poses here). Primary works quite a bit on:

  • The gastrointestinal system
  • Digestion
  • Assimilation
  • Elimination

If the concept of the pancha kosas — the five sheaths — is new to you, I recommend reading Light on Life. And, of course, try to find time to study with Tim Miller. I’m sure he’ll be doing more of these one-day intensives now that he’s had the chance to test it out on our group.

Tim said this about the Ashtanga method as we were discussing the primary series: “It’s very scientific. It’s very sophisticated. And best of all, it works.” Seeing these notes again remind me that Steve of The Confluence Countdown recently posted an interview with Eddie Stern about a new yoga study that includes what is essentially a distillation of part of the primary series. Interesting stuff.

My relationship with the practice

On a personal level, the primary series has been an incredibly positive influence for me — for years the metronomic quality of the practice was about the only calm consistency in my life that I could point to — but the process has been as slow as molasses. Some people fly through primary. Not me.

I spent years and years without an Ashtanga teacher, and cobbled together a practice based on a couple of weekend workshops with David Swenson and some practice cards. I was lucky enough to be in a led class taught by Pattabhi Jois when he paid a visit to Montreal during one of his North American tours, but I still didn’t understand the series well enough by that time to even get into the marichyasana twists without assistance.

During those lonely years without a teacher, I had enough internal drive to know this was good for me, but not enough tapas to practice daily and fully wring out the benefits of the practice. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had met Tim Miller or Angela Jamison all those years ago. Despite knowing that the past is what it is and there’s no point dwelling on it, I admit to still having twinges of regret now and then — less so for what my practice could be now that I am on the cusp of turning 36 (though I would be lying if I didn’t say that is part of it), and more so for what better choices I could have made in my life had I had a consistent daily practice in my 20s.

The silver lining for all this is that I have a deep well of patience for teaching primary series, and I invest as much as I can to trying to help students who seem to need someone to put them in closer touch with their practice. As I told one of my students once, every single one of your challenges with the practice becomes a gift you have for your students. And my god, have I had an abundance of challenges — from my unforgiving work schedules to the far-from-any-shala locations I have lived to the less-than-ideal body proportions that makes poses like supta kurmasana and pasasana a steep uphill journey.

Ah, pasasana — the gateway pose to second series. We’ll get to that in the next blog post.

(Photo: My friend Jen René in supta kurmasana, which is the most extreme of the forward folds in the Ashtanga primary series practice. Jen teaches Ashtanga and vinyasa yoga and Pilates in Washington, D.C. If you’re in D.C., check her out — she’s excellent.)

© 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.

[LAUGHS] ‘Who cools down in 175 degrees? A Komodo Dragon?’ (a counter-post to my Bikram yoga post)

"Yoga mats in a bin" by Cowbite's Flickr photostream

Usually, when I’m funny, it’s unintended. When I try, it turns out like this (cute at best — LMAO material? Hardly.). That’s why I appreciate funny people — especially funny writers. And I especially anyone who can poke a little fun at the yoga scene.

This Craiglist ad for a yoga mat falls into that category. It’s from the Best of Seattle Craiglist, and it made my day yesterday. (Thanks for sharing it with me, chica!) This is the perfect counter-post, if you will, to my rather serious post the other day about my experience in a Bikram yoga class.

Here it is (the bolds are mine, to help you speed through this if you want to): _______________________________________________________________________

Yoga mat for sale. Used once at lunch hour class in December 2009. Usage timeline as follows: 

11:45a
Register for hot yoga class. Infinite wisdom tells me to commit to 5 class package and purchase a yoga mat. I pay $89.74. Money well spent, I smugly confirm to myself. 

11:55a
Open door to yoga room. A gush of hot dry air rushes through and past me. It smells of breath, sweat and hot. Take spot on floor in back of room next to cute blonde. We will date.

11:57a
I feel the need to be as near to naked as possible. This is a problem because of the hot blonde to my left and our pending courtship. She will not be pleased to learn that I need to lose 30 pounds before I propose to her.

11:58a
The shirt and sweats have to come off. I throw caution to the wind and decide to rely on my wit and conditioning to overcome any weight issues my fiancée may take issue with. This will take a lot of wit and conditioning.

11:59a
Begin small talk with my bride to be. She pretends to ignore me but I know how she can be. I allow her to concentrate and stare straight ahead and continue to pretend that I don’t exist. As we finish sharing our special moment, I am suddenly aware of a sweat moustache that has formed below my nose. This must be from the all the whispering between us.

12:00p
Instructor enters the room and ascends her special podium at the front of the room. She is a slight, agitated Chinese woman. She introduces me to the class and everyone turns around to greet me just as I decide to aggressively adjust my penis and testes packed in my Under Armor. My bride is notably unfazed.

12:02p
Since I do have experience with Hot Yoga (4 sessions just 5 short years ago) I fully consider that I may be so outstanding and skilled that my instructor may call me out and ask me to guide the class. My wife will look on with a sparkle in her eye. We will make love after class.

12:10p
It is now up to 95 degrees in the room. We have been practicing deep breathing exercises for the last 8 minutes. This would not be a problem if we were all breathing actual, you know, oxygen. Instead, we are breathing each other’s body odor, expelled carbon dioxide and other unmentionables. (Don’t worry, I’ll mention them later.)

12:26p
It is now 100 degrees and I take notice of the humidity, which is hovering at about 90%. I feel the familiar adorning stare of my bride and decide to look back at her. She appears to be nauseated. I then realize that I forgot to brush my teeth prior to attending this class. We bond.

12:33p
It is now 110 degrees and 95% humidity. I am now balancing on one leg with the other leg crossed over the other. My arms are intertwined and I am squatting. The last time I was in this position was 44 years ago in the womb, but I’m in this for the long haul. My wife looks slightly weathered dripping sweat and her eyeliner is streaming down her face. Well, “for better or worse” is what we committed to so we press on.

12:40p
The overweight Hispanic man two spots over has sweat running down his legs. At least I think its sweat. He is holding every position and has not had a sip of water since we walked in. He is making me look bad and I hate him.

12:44p
I consider that if anyone in this room farted that we would all certainly perish.

12:52p
It is now 140 degrees and 100% humidity. I am covered from head to toe in sweat. There is not a square millimeter on my body that is not slippery and sweaty. I am so slimy that I feel like a sea lion or a maybe sea eel. Not even a bear trap could hold me. The sweat is stinging my eyeballs and I can no longer see.

12:55p
This room stinks of asparagus, cloves, tuna and tacos. There is no food in the room. I realize that this is an amalgamation of the body odors of 30 people in a 140 degree room for the last 55 minutes. Seriously, enough with the asparagus, ok? 

1:01p
140 degrees and 130% humidity. Look, bitch, I need my space here so don’t get all pissy with me if I accidentally sprayed you with sweat as I flipped over. Seriously, is that where this relationship is going? Get over yourself. We need counseling and she needs to be medicated. Stat!

1:09p
150 degrees and cloudy. And hot. I can no longer move my limbs on my own. I have given up on attempting any of the commands this Chinese chick is yelling out at us. I will lay sedentary until the aid unit arrives. I will buy this building and then have it destroyed.
I lose consciousness.

1:15p
I have a headache and my wife is being a selfish bitch. I can’t really breathe. All I can think about is holding a cup worth of hot sand in my mouth. I cannot remember what an ice cube is and cannot remember what snow looks like. I consider that my only escape might be a crab walk across 15 bodies and then out of the room. I am paralyzed, and may never walk again so the whole crab walk thing is pretty much out.

1:17p
I cannot move at all and cannot reach my water. Is breathing voluntary or involuntary? If it’s voluntary, I am screwed. I stopped participating in the class 20 minutes ago. Hey, lady! I paid for this frickin class, ok?! You work for me! Stop yelling at everyone and just tell us a story or something. It’s like juice and cracker time, ok? 

1:20p
It is now 165 degrees and moisture is dripping from the ceiling. The towel that I am laying on is no longer providing any wicking or drying properties. It is actually placing additional sweat on me as I touch it. My towel reeks. I cannot identify the smell but no way can it be from me. Did someone spray some stank on my towel or something? 

1:30p
Torture session is over. I wish hateful things upon the instructor. She graciously allows us to stay and ‘cool down’ in the room. It is 175 degrees. Who cools down in 175 degrees? A Komodo Dragon? My wife has left the room. Probably to throw up. 

1:34p
My opportunity to escape has arrived. I roll over to my stomach and press up to my knees. It is warmer as I rise up from ground level – probably by 15 degrees. So let’s conservatively say it’s 190. I muster my final energy and slowly rise. One foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. Towards the door. Towards the door.

1:37p
The temperature in the lobby is 72 degrees. Both nipples stiffen to diamond strength and my penis begins to retract into my abdomen from the 100 degree temp swing. I can once again breathe though so I am pleased. I spot my future ex wife in the lobby. We had such a good thing going but I know that no measure of counseling will be able to unravel the day’s turmoil and mental scaring.

1:47p
Arrive at Emerald City Smoothie and proceed to order a 32 oz beverage. 402 calories, 0 fat and 14 grams of protein — effectively negating any caloric burn or benefit from the last 90 minutes. I finish it in 3 minutes and spend the next 2 hours writing this memoir. 

3:47p
Create Craigslist ad while burning final 2 grams of protein from Smoothie and before the “shakes” consume my body.

4:29p
Note to self – check car for missing wet yoga towel in am.

(Photo credit: “Yoga mats in a bin” via Cowbite’s Flickr photostream/Flickr Creative Commons)

 

Shhh. I’d like to practice, please. (Or, why Bikram yoga isn’t for me.)

It’s a holy time — Easter and Passover. Because I don’t celebrate either (I was raised as a Buddhist), it’s been a very quiet day for me. No family get-togethers, no religious or social gatherings. The loudest thing I heard outdoors today has been the high winds that sent my apartment complex’s display flags toppling over. It’s been relatively quiet indoors too. I had the chance to do my practice in an empty studio just before a private yoga lesson with a student. And it was so lovely to practice while hearing just the sound of my breath and the click-click-click of the wall clock.

So, I suppose this is as good a day as any to talk about the sounds of practice, which I’ve found myself thinking about quite a bit since I started teaching yoga. What are useful sounds that support the practice? What are distracting sounds that take away from the practice?

I’ve written before about why I don’t use music in the classes I teach. The more time I get in Mysore rooms — especially energetically intense ones like the Mysore classes at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence — the less I enjoy it when there’s a lot of noise in yoga classes that I take. That includes music and talking — especially instructors who seem to be uncomfortable with silence, and work tirelessly to fill in emptiness with chatter.

I took my first Bikram yoga class last month, when I was in St. Louis for a Radiohead show. I thought I would leave that class thinking a lot about the heat (Bikram classes are heated to 105 degrees and the humidity is kept at 40 percent). The contrast of externally blasting the heat compared with the Ashtanga method, which believes in practitioners creating their own heat through breath and energy locks, could not have starker.

The more jarring thing about the class, for me, was the sound. It was incessant. I don’t think I had 10 seconds of uninterrupted focus, because the instructor, who wore a headset, talked the whole time. I remember lots of miked encouragement to “push, and push, and push” and “lock the knee.” (Never been to Bikram class? You can get the picture by reading through the official Bikram “yoga dialogue.”)

This is not a criticism of the instructor. And I know some ashtangis who also love Bikram yoga, and swear by the Bikram method’s benefits. I’m not trying to take anything away from it — this post reflects my opinion of Bikram, and more power to you if the method has given you what you sought or outright changed your life — but wow, this was not the yoga for me, if for the level of chatter alone.

The journalist in me is compelled to bring some balance into this post and note that it may not be that simple. This blog post of a first-time Bikram student settles on the idea that you’re not supposed to listen to what’s being said:

After the class, I found myself chatting with the receptionist about my first class.

“I like that my skin feels so clean.” It really did—I felt like I had perspired until there was nothing but pure water left in my pores. “But are there any instructors here who don’t….talk so much?”

“The continuous dialogue?” he said. “That’s one of the pillars of Bikram yoga.”

“Like heat.”

“Heat and continuous dialogue and the patented series of 26 postures.”

“It kind of gets to me.”

“That’s the challenge, to see if you can tune it out. That’s why it’s a signature of the style.”

Surprisingly, you never hear about this.  (“Oh, you do Bikram?  The yoga with continuous verbal dialogue, right?”) But to me it was Bikram’s salient feature: that everything they said was allegedly for you not to hear. And more importantly: that I couldn’t stop listening.

It was humbling.  I went in feeling like a yoga champ and left realizing what a novice I was in that most basic respect: mental control. Trying a new yoga style was like traveling to a foreign country—coming face to face with a new way of thinking and living. In the end it wasn’t about sweat, heat, or Bikram and waiting for his continuous dialogue to end—it was simply (and not simply) a matter of finding ways to quiet my own.

The blogger in me gets to say yeah, whatever. It sounds awfully convenient to me to copyright a dialog — the whole McYoga argument so often leveled against the Bikram style — and have it both ways by saying you’re supposed to tune it out. When you have pages and pages of scripted text that instructors are required to use, how can there be room for observation and insight?

This is from a blog post called “The Poverty of Verbal Instruction” by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, my Ashtanga teacher:

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

. . .

My teachers have taught me to give little or no response to students’ self-limiting stories, to teach with one’s own personality glazed over to support students’ depth of internal focus, and to do everything possible to prevent chit-chat in the room. My teaching mentors see discursive talk in a practice room as mostly useless. So gradually, and without using words, they showed me how to teach from a very quiet place.

I do offer new students verbal instruction. If someone is reaching out for an anchor or feedback, I’ll even give a little eye contact. And there might be some talk to smooth the transition into the odd culture of a Mysore room. Proprioception and concentration are still developing, after all. But pretty soon in this scenario, we come into contact with the ways that chit-chat and personality-to-personality interactions weaken and clutter the practice. I become more still in order to get out of your way, to let you refine your own beautiful habits of mind-body. It is so nice to be in the room as you realize that you’re ok with whatever arises, as you open to new sensations, as you settle in to just being there, creating and experiencing experience.

As a journalist by training, I fundamentally believe in the power of words. Absolutely. But sometimes we work against ourselves. My journalism professors at Columbia University taught me the power behind the idea that in journalistic writing, less is more.

I’d say the same is true for a yoga room.

>>Related topic, sort of: For what it’s worth, I enjoyed “Solitude in practice; or why Ashtanga is the best style of yoga,” a blog post that briefly touches on the idea of solitude and quiet.

(Photo credit: Stille-Silence_2 via respontour’s Flickr photostream)

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

YogaRose.net Explainer: What is it ashtangis talk about when they talk about ‘ladies’ holiday’?

"Stay perky through your period" Midol print ad from 1945

“Stay perky through your period” Midol print ad from 1945

There are at least three ways you could have guessed that it’s that time of month for me:

  • I have chocolate within reach on my kitchen counter at home; on the table behind my desk at work; and, for a while, I had a Twix bar in my purse. (I don’t always get cravings for chocolate during my cycle, but for whatever reason, the urges have been quite strong this time around.)
  • I’ve been wanting to go to bed early (rather than having to force myself).
  • I haven’t practiced Ashtanga for two days.

I feel as if my six-day-a-week practice has helped me experience my menstrual cycles a little differently — in a good way — so I thought this would be the perfect time to do a YogaRose.net Explainer on “ladies’ holiday.”

What are Ashtanga yoga practitioners referring to when they talk about “ladies’ holiday”?

Maybe you’ve heard ashtangis quietly talking about it. Maybe you saw the quite funny “Sh*t Ashtangis Say” YouTube video that made the rounds a while back (that very catty scene where a woman is saying, “Yeah, I’ve noticed she’s been taking a lot of ladies’ holidays . . . “). Maybe you sort of know what everyone is referring to, but aren’t 100 percent sure.

In a nutshell, the idea is that practicing Ashtanga during your menstrual cycle goes against the energetic grain. You’re trying to engage the strong upward flow of the energetic locks of the practice — mula bandha and uddiyana bandha — while your body has a strong downward flow.

Here is Kimberly Flynn explaining ladies’ holiday in a way only that only she can:

What do women who practice Ashtanga think about this?

As you can imagine, there’s not consensus on this issue. Some bristle at the thought of being benched during this time and ignore this aspect of the tradition. Others relish it. At the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, for instance, Nancy Gilgoff asked women who were on their cycle to watch the led primary series class instead of practice. (I thought could feel the hesitation in the room when several women had to make that decision of whether to roll up their mat and find a spot to sit and watch.) Nancy explained that when she first started studying in Mysore in the ’60s, the idea that she shouldn’t be practicing during her period went against the spirit of the feminist movement. But she came around on the issue based on the energetic conflict.

Heidi Quinn of Monterey Yoga Shala said this to The Confluence Countdown:

After hearing various theories regarding the Ladies’ Holiday – Should I practice or not? –  Nancy finally offered an explanation I could support.  She explains it as a way to honor our bodies, a way to respect the body’s natural inclinations toward depletion and fatigue, and to support the downward flow – apana.

Here is Yoga Mama‘s take:

When I first started to practice Ashtanga yoga I did not adhere to “Ladies’ holidays” and I still have a little bit of a problem with the “ladies” word, but I am not about to try and change Sri K. Pattabhi Jois’ language to suit my own.

As Ashtanga became a regular part of my life and I became more aware of my bodies needs, I have grown to love these “ladies’ holidays” and find a quietness and stillness in these non-physical practice days. When I return to my mat, I feel softer and it feels like a renewal on all levels. This is how I seem to practice yoga these days. My body [and mind] now has a cycle that is flowing. I no longer feel the need to go against my natural cycle and can now embrace the feminine changes (most of the time).

Here is Katie Scanlon-Gehn‘s take:

This is something that I get asked a lot and because I’ve always sort of rebelled against anyone telling me not to do something I’ve also rebelled against the whole idea that women can’t do something just because they are menstruating. But as usual, after my initial reaction to authority, followed by empirical investigation and experience plus a dose of mellowing with age – and even I can see some value to the practice of “ladies holiday.”

What do you think about this?

When I didn’t have a regular yoga practice, I didn’t think anything of practicing during my period. But over the years, as I found a more regular practice, I started noticing how it didn’t feel great to practice at that time — but I usually did anyway. At some point, though, it struck me so clearly in class that bandhas don’t work during this time. Not even a little bit. At that point, I stopped practicing Ashtanga during my cycle, but would still practice vinyasa or power yoga.

Now that I have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice, I feel much more connected to my body on several levels — my cycle being one of them. Periods have become less of an intrusion on my daily schedule and more of a time to slow down and listen — feel — what’s happening in this body of mine. It’s more time to observe, and a different way to try to practice non-attachment — in my case, letting go of the idea that my highly constructed schedule shouldn’t change (i.e., slow down) to accomodate the power of this natural flow. As a consequence, I’ve joined the ranks of women who have come to appreciate the tradition, and I happily honor it.

One thing in particular that I’ve noticed about my body during this current cycle is that damn  . . . that dark chocolate is being received so warmly. 😉 

(Graphic credit: Midol print ad from 1945 via the genibee Flickr photostream.)

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

YogaRose.net Explainer: Help! I hate practicing on carpet, but I want a home practice. What can I do?

A view of my mat folded over to show the LifeBoard base layer

This post is for the yogi who wants to build a home practice but can’t stand practicing on carpet. So often in yoga, there’s no easy answer to the “how can I . . . ?” question. In this case, I think there is a relatively straightforward answer to the question, “How can I make practicing on carpet feel better?”

Answer: Buy two pieces of interlocking plastic called the LifeBoard.

I heard about this product — which is made specifically for yoga and Pilates — through someone’s comment posted last year on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page (a great Facebook yoga page to “like,” by the way).

I’ve been using this board for a few months now, and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say it has eliminated my complaints about practicing on carpet — in particular, the inevitable hills and valleys you get on the mat when you’re not practicing on a hardwood or cork floor. Do I still prefer to practice on beautiful hardwood floors? Absolutely. But that’s become merely an aesthetic consideration.

Here’s how the two pieces of the board look from the underside (in case you’re wondering, that’s our brown couch peeking through the middle):

LifeBoard -- two pieces upright, view from the underside

The way you hook them together is to hold on to the handles of the boards with the undersides facing you, and draw the boards away from you as you interlock the jagged edges in the center.

Then you lay that on the floor. I set my black mat on top of the board, and drape my Mysore rug on top of that. The completed board is just big enough for my mat:

LifeBoard -- with my mat and rug on top (you see a sliver of the board extend beyond the mat)

Now, if you have one of those extra wide John Friend Manduka mats (not sure what the fate of those mats will be, by the way), this would probably not work. Ditto for anyone with an extra long mat.

Here are the board’s specs from the LifeBoard website:

  • Non-skid top surface prevents yoga mat from slipping on the LifeBoard yoga floor
  • Cleated bottom surface prevents the LifeBoard yoga floor from slipping on carpet
  • Made of recyclable high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and shipped in boxes made of 100% recycled material. The black LifeBoard uses 50% recycled material.
  • Several dollars from each purchase goes to a nonprofit organization called Skyline Center in Clinton, IA. They provide rehabilitation services and work programs for disabled adults. They do the shipping and handling for us.
  • Made in the U.S.A.
  • 73” L x 28 3/4” W x 5/8” H (assembled) – just a little larger than a standard yoga mat
  • Lightweight – approximately 8.5 lbs per panel, 17 lbs total

In an Ashtanga primary series practice, I don’t think there are many considerations that need to be taken into account, except that I’d imagine newer practitioners need to be extra careful in garbha pindasana rolls and in chakrasana. In second series, you’re over the edge of the board in parsva dhanurasana, and in nakrasana you’re jumping off the board, but neither of those situations seems to be a problem.

The other part of the equation for not minding practicing on carpet, of course, is tristana — the focus on the pose, the breath/bandhas and the dristi. With that level of focus, your surroundings sort of melt away anyway, right?

© 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.

Yoga for depression and anxiety

I was happy to be able to snag the last available spot for a two-hour workshop called Yoga for Depression and Anxiety, held this afternoon at the beautiful, community-focused Just B Yoga in Lansing. It was taught by a good friend of mine, South London native Kim Lewis.

Just B Yoga website screenshot

Although I won’t try to document the breathing and moving techniques that Kim went through — I believe these types of things are best learned and digested in context — I do want to say it was very moving when Kim started out the workshop by telling her own story. Here is her bio:

I first experienced a yoga class about 20 years ago, but I began to practice consistently in 2002 in my late 30s. I’d never been comfortable doing sport or “physical” activity, so I was surprised how much I enjoyed this unfamiliar form of exercise. Since then, I’ve learned that yoga has much more to offer than simply physical movement.

Before getting more serious about yoga, I was suffering with backaches, headaches, and neck aches – probably all because of stress. I’ve also had trouble with depression and anxiety that has sometimes thrown me completely off balance. Yoga has helped me to build better physical and mental health, so I’m able to function well in my daily life – and really live life.

At 46, I’m in much better physical and emotional shape than I was at 26. The combination of yoga poses, breathing and meditative practices simply makes me feel good. I’m so fortunate that I found yoga and I want to share it with others.

I trained with Hilaire Lockwood at Hilltop Yoga. I am also certified by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, as a LifeForce Yoga Practitioner.

Kim was diagnosed as bipolar in her 20s, and strongly advises anyone trying to come off medications to do so with the help of a physician — rather than trying to do so on their own. Kim told the group today that she is living proof that while yoga can’t take away all the challenges, it can change someone’s life:

It can change your brain.

Kim told us that yoga gives you the tools to take care of yourself. These tools can be summarized by three words: “Breathe, Move, Watch,” based on breathing techniques (pranayama), physical postures (asana) and looking at how yoga philosophy views the Self.

You can use breathing and movement to:

  • Balance the body and mind
  • Calm the body/mind when anxious
  • Energize the body and mind when depressed — but on this point, Kim emphasized how mindfulness is needed because this can also aggravate anxiety or set off a manic state.

She said everyone needs to cultivate self-awareness and check in with themselves. If you feel lethargic and depressed, start slowly and warm up to a more energetic practice. If you feel jumpy and anxious, start with more active movement and then slow down to a more calming practice.

As a yoga instructor, I appreciated Kim’s pointers for those with depression or anxiety when taking group yoga classes — that you have to cultivate this same self-awareness and do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

On this point, I think yoga teachers would be wise to try to learn more about depressed and anxious students. You won’t be able to tell that modifications are needed the way you would if a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy walks into your class, but even being aware of different needs might make you more intuitive about students who may quietly be suffering through major depression and need a different energy from you.

I found these points particularly interesting:

  • For someone with major depression, it may be too much to turn in internally, so don’t allow yourself to go there.
  • For someone with major depression, it might be uncomfortable to close the eyes, so just soften the gaze.

On that point, as an Ashtanga devotee, it made me all the more aware of the importance of dristi — the gaze — of the practice. Dristi is one of the three tools that the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga system gives us (together, the three are referred to as the tristana). There’s not a whole lot of eye-closing in Ashtanga — you are always asked to set a soft gaze on one of nine points (tip of nose, hand, to the side, etc.). I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that, to keep us present on the mat in a way that allows us to boomerang our awareness inward with true clarity, rather than in a way that allows us either to escape to another place or get sucked into a place we don’t want to go to.

I’m writing about this workshop to, generally, help share the resources that Kim shared. I also noticed that the workshop had sold out at 20 slots — but I only counted about 14 in the room, and wondered if some folks were too anxious to be in a group setting where the focus was on yoga therapy for depression and anxiety.

For anyone with depression or anxiety reading this blog post at home, know that there are people who get it, and that yoga therapy may be able to help. If reaching out seems impossible, maybe make a few clicks to buy some of these resources listed below, to help you get to a point where you can seek out a professional who can work with you on some basic yoga techniques that — while they will hardly fix everything — might be able to help.

Suggested books

Suggested CD

>>Related posts: A different kind of black Friday

==========

By the way — I know it’s been two weeks since my last blog post, and I have to tell you that it’s killing me that I’ve been too busy to blog. If you’ve been following this blog for the past year or so, you know I fit in blogging whenever I can — so the fact that I haven’t been able to put anything up is a testament to how compressed my schedule has been. I think I literally have about 12 blog posts in my head right now — about the first Bikram class I took about what being a Radiohead concert made me think about injuries, about one excellent tool for home practice and how I lost my voice nearly completely but taught a led class anyway — and on and on. I hope to catch up on some of these. We shall see.

© 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Keep reading, keep practicing

Books for sale at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence is over, but the stream of knowledge and inspiration from this first-of-its-kind gathering doesn’t have to end for any of us.

Here’s a list of Confluence-related resources, which I’ve divided into various categories. Perhaps the most important list below is the one for workshops offered by the Confluence teachers. Nothing beats being in the same room to feel the radiance of these deeply devoted teachers.

==Blog posts specifically about the Confluence by the teachers==

Tim Miller

  • Tuesday, February 28th (a post just before the start of the gathering)
  • Tuesday, March 6th (a post just after the end of the gathering). I love that in this post, Tim Miller notes how he once asked Guruji what he thought about western students’ pronunciation of Sanskrit. Guruji said simply, “Eddie’s is correct.”

Eddie Stern

==Keeping up with the Confluence teachers’ writings==

==Blog posts and blog series by Ashtanga practitioners==

==Photos from the Confluence==

  • Michelle Haymoz, a student of Tim Miller’s, took stunning photos of the Confluence opening puja ceremony. See them here.
  • Lena Gardelli, the official photographer of the event, has started to post albums on her Facebook page. Take a look.

==Video==

==Keep learning from the Confluence teachers==

Nancy Gilgoff

Richard Freeman

Tim Miller

Eddie Stern

David Swenson

I’ll be adding to this as I come across new links. Tell me what I’ve missed by leaving a comment below. And, last but not least — happy practicing!

>>In this series:

© 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff

It’s hard to believe the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was only last weekend. If I didn’t have a full-time job, if I didn’t teach yoga four times a week, and if I wasn’t trying to plan a wedding, I probably would have written twice as many blog posts during and after the Confluence. :-) But I’m thankful for the time and inspiration I have had for the posts I have managed to do — a big thank you to everyone for reading, commenting and sharing, both here and on Facebook.

I have a couple more posts to go, however, before I say I’ve filed all that I want to file from the gathering.

On the last day of the Confluence, I took the guided primary series with Nancy Gilgoff. I loved the balance of taking the led primary from Richard Freeman on the first day of classes and then seeing Nancy’s approach on the last day. They couldn’t have been more different in their approach to beginners.

You could tell from Richard’s class that he has a background in Iyengar and philosophy. His approach, which I really appreciated, was to set the scene, so speak. Offer up intensely vivid imagery (such as golden dragon tails and cobra hoodies). Get deep into poses. But at the very end of classes, he said, “So . . . don’t try to remember any of this.” He told the room full of students that if we continue to practice, all of this stuff will find us. If we don’t, it will run away from us. Richard seems to simply want to plant the seeds of these ideas into our body and our consciousness.

Nancy began class by saying that when she first met Guruji, he had to put her into poses. He had to help her jump back, because she wasn’t strong enough. She is a big believer in introducing Ashtanga yoga to beginners by having them just do it. Breath? Bandhas? “The beginner can’t hear it anyway,” she told us. Nancy continued by saying that bringing up too much with beginners runs the risk of causing their minds to activate. “The less thinking, the better,” she said.

I loved what she had to say about the Ashtanga vinyasa yoga breath:

The more I practice, the more I realize the simplicity of it. This is about the breath.

(Interestingly, in a similar vein, Richard Freeman had said in his class that you could think of Ashtanga as “pranayama for restless people.”)

Nancy knew that nearly every single person in that room already had an Ashtanga practice, so she noted historical facts about the poses as we got into them. I loved it — it was like taking a guided historical tour of how the primary series sequence has changed over time.

A few notes:

  • In bhujapidasana, she teaches head on the floor the way Tim Miller does. Chin to the floor is more advanced, she said, and you shouldn’t do it if you can’t do head to the floor.
  • In kurmasana, it used to be arms straight out to the sides. Nancy wondered whether taking the arms at more of an angle was the result of less and less room to work with.
  • When it came time for urdvha dhanurasana, Nancy said that Pattabhi Jois didn’t have them do backbends there. “Think about that,” she said. She did let students who wanted the urdvha dhanurasanas to take them.
  • Nancy also put us in the pose that Tim Miller has his students do, where you lie down right after backbends. (Tim calls it tadaka mudra.) Nancy noted that it is not savasana. “Stiff body,” she said.
  • I loved how she introduced  ut plutihi: She said to bring in all the tension you can. All of it, so that you can fully let go in savasana. For this reason, Nancy believes in going straight to savasana from ut plutihi, rather than taking a vinyasa first. But she let students take the vinyasa if they wanted to.

After the class, we had a few minutes of discussion. Someone asked Nancy about alignment. “There is no formal alignment whatsoever,” she said.

In Ashtanga, Nancy noted, it’s about energetic channels: “It’s a completely different approach.”

I loved what she said next, because the idea that there’s no alignment whatsoever seemed to be a difficult one for our group as a whole to handle:

The western mind thinks in terms of external form.

 

As with each of the Confluence teachers, Nancy’s instruction left me with so much great fodder to think about — not just now, but for years to come.

(Illustration credit: Chakras, from “The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga,” by Swami Vishnudevananda, 1959, via Spratmackrel’s Flickr photostream and Creative Commons.)

In this series:

© 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.

 

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: What about this whole enlightenment business?

There was a Q-and-A session during the last panel of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. One question, which had been submitted to conference organizers prior to the start of the gathering, seemed like an eight-part question about enlightenment. It was such a long question that I won’t even attempt to summarize it. But it doesn’t really matter, because in the case of the videos below, the answers are more interesting than the question.

Eddie Stern on enlightenment

Just before this clip begins, Stern says that when he first found yoga, he only knew of meditation and chanting. He was searching for something called enlightenment. He didn’t find postures until he met Pattabhi Jois. This clip picks up there.

I was interested in learning what Guruji knew. I was interested in learning how he could see people so clearly….How could he see things about me that I didn’t understanding about myself? So all that became a lot more interesting to me than some idea about some state that I may or may not ever reach or be in — or maybe even exist.

Tim Miller

Enlightenment, as Eddie intimated, is kind of a lofty concept for a householder. You know, my wife is happy if I remember to empty the dishwasher. She refers to it as foreplay.

David Swenson

In his trademark fashion, David continued the rolls of laughter by starting out with, “I am enlightened. And if you would like to get enlightened, buy my DVD.”

What are the signs? Do you get a tweet?

What David says in his answer seems to apply specifically to our practice as well:

Answers are overrated. Because what happens many times — we get an answer, and we stop questioning….Questions contain the quest.

In this series:

(Photo credit: “Enlightenment!” via Shira Golding‘s Flickr photostream)

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

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: The making of the ‘confluence’ theme

My blog post “Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Last day (first set?)” included a video interview with Jenny Barrett-Bouwer, who, along with Carol Miller and Deborah Ifill, organized the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. That blog post included Jenny’s answer to the burning question on everyone’s mind as the event ended: Will there be another Confluence next year?

Consider this post the second part of the interviews with organizers, where we get to take a step back with Deb. Deb, who is a graphic designer, was nice enough to talk about how the term “confluence” came to be the name of the gathering, and how she came up wit the popular designs of the Confluence T-shirts.

As a reminder, here is how the event’s website — which Deb also designed — says about the mission of the Confluence:

Join in an in-depth exploration of the Ashtanga Yoga tradition March 1-4, 2012 in San Diego with senior western students of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: Richard Freeman, Nancy Gilgoff, Tim Miller, David Swenson and Eddie Stern.

In India, the location where two or more rivers merge is thought to be an auspicious place of spiritual power. In the same spirit these highly respected teachers will join in a confluence* of classes, lectures, stories and events designed to share the profound gift of yoga they received from their beloved teacher, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

The confluence is open to experienced ashtanga yoga practitioners as well as yoga students who are new to the ashtanga practice. We offer a unique opportunity for students of all levels to learn from master teachers of this profound and ancient system.

 

*con·flu·ence [kon-floo-uhns] noun: A flowing together of two or more streams. An act or process of merging. A coming together of people or things.

How did the term “confluence” come to be?

How did you come up with the memorable T-shirt designs? The fan favorite seemed to be the one of Pattabhi Jois tee done in the style of the famous Obama “Hope” design.

Why did you choose an eight-petaled lotus for some of the T-shirt designs?

The Confluence took a year of planning, and you said you worked on it pretty much every day. Did your Ashtanga practice help you with the event planning process?

In this series:

© 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.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Eddie Stern suggests a high-stakes Vedic debate with ‘The Science of Yoga’ author William Broad

Screenshot of Eddie Stern's blog post (also published in the Huffington Post) responding to William Broad's "How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body" article in the New York Times magazine.

The final panel discussion of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence included a Q-and-A portion. Organizers had sent out an email to all registrants a while back asking if anyone had questions for the teachers.

One of the questions chosen was directed to Tim Miller and wanted to hear his take on William Broad’s book The Science of Yoga. Tim leaned into the microphone and said that Eddie Stern, who had written an excellent article in response to that very question, was the ideal panelist to answer that question.

You can listen to Eddie’s well-rounded answer here, and to the hilarious way he ended his comment — by basically challenging New York Times writer William Broad to a Vedic debate, which is a pretty high-stakes way of determining a winner in an argument.

P.S.  Should I have titled this post “How a Vedic debate can wreck a bad argument”?

In this series:

© 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.

[VIDEO] Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Last day (first set?)

The first-ever Ashtanga Yoga Confluence ended a little after 5 this evening. I have so much to share from everything that happened today, and will try to blog as much as I can during the 4 1/2-hour plane ride back to Michigan tomorrow.

Suffice it to say that you’ll eventually be reading about:

  • Eddie Stern’s hilarious and awesome Vedic-tradition-based challenge to William Broad, author of the controversial book, The Science of Yoga.
  • What the Confluence teachers had to say about enlightenment.
  • A more-or-less pose-by-pose history of the primary series, according to Nancy Gilgoff (you might be surprised by what’s been added over the years and what’s been taken out).
  • What we in the west need to be cautious of when we stand on the shoulders of yoga giants.

In the meantime, you should read on to learn more about whether there will be a Confluence 2013, and you should also head over the Confluence Countdown blog to see Steve and Bobbie’s musings, reports and photos so far from the event.

In honor of the completion of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence, I want to focus this post on the organizers who made this all happen. Two of Tim Miller’s students, Jenny Barrett-Bouwer and Deborah Ifill, came to Tim and his wife, Carol, about a year ago with the idea for an Ashtanga Yoga conference. The rest is now history. The three women — who all already had their hands full with their current responsibilities — suddenly found themselves with a new event-planning gig in addition to everything else. Tim’s job was to reach out to the teachers who ultimately became the Confluence crew.

Carol, Deborah and Jenny received a much-deserved standing ovation this afternoon during the last panel session — not just for making this happen at all, but for making it such a resounding success. To a person, everyone I talked to at the event thought it so incredibly well planned out and superbly executed.

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Carol Miller, one of the three visionary and tireless organizers of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. Students of Tim Miller know that Carol is the force behind making annual retreats such as the Mt. Shasta hiking/yoga getaways a reality.

Deborah and Carol were kind enough to speak with me today about the event, even though they were swamped with getting everything wrapped up. They noted that the Confluence teachers wanted to keep it small and intimate. That’s why the event was capped at under 400 and why only the morning class and afternoon workshop on each day were split into two groups, with everything else done as a large group.

All told, there were 386 registrants hailing from across the United States and from countries as far away as Italy. An even bigger group — 500 people — were on the waiting list. There was so much enthusiasm for the event that, once it was announced last year, it only took 45 days for all the spots to fill.

Jenny was also kind enough to talk to me today. Here’s my quick video interview with her:

How did the Confluence come about? (Word of warning: I think Jenny is making it sound a lot simpler than it really was!)

Confluence attendees seemed to all feel that the event really spoke to how strong the Ashtanga tradition is today. Can you talk a little about that?

 

What has the feedback been for the Confluence?



Will there be another Confluence next year?

On this point, I have to note that at the end of the last discussion panel, Eddie, who owns Ashtanga Yoga New York, said, “How about next year in New York?”

Last one. First set!

A quick note about the title of this blog post. As students of Tim Miller know all too well, Timji (as he is affectionately called), doesn’t seem to believe in doing just three urdvha dhanurasanas in a led primary series class. Sometimes, he will have us do eight — one for each of eight of the seemingly never-ending names of the famous monkey king Hanuman.

On other days, he will have us do a couple sets of three. In those cases, he will call out the last backbend of the first set of three by saying, “Up you go. Last one.” And his students will call out on cue and in unison, “First set!”

Let’s hope today was the last day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence’s first of many, many sets.

In this series:

 

© 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.

Ashtanga Yoga Confluence: Backbending, and getting back together

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For me, the second full day of the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence was about backbending and getting back together.

Mysore West?

First, getting back together. As lots of people have noted, having 350 Ashtanga yoga practitioners all in one place to learn from five master teachers is a recipe for a reunion. Even though Ashtanga’s popularity around the world seems to have increased exponentially since the early 1970s, it’s still a pretty small, tight-knit community — even if you’ve never studied in Mysore, India.

Just before the start of the conference, Tim Miller wrote this blog post:

The tribe has already started to gather—my regular classes are starting to swell a bit with the new arrivals from various parts of the country. Most of these folks I have met at some point, either through their attendance at a workshop I taught in their area or their participation in a teacher-training course or retreat. It feels a bit like a family reunion—nieces and nephews and cousins all coming together for a big celebration. My fellow teachers at the Confluence are like brothers and sisters that I rarely get a chance to spend time with. The last time we all got together was for Guruji’s memorial in 2009. The Confluence will be a different kind of Guruji memorial—a joyful celebration of Pattabhi Jois’ life and legacy.

The tribe gathering — it’s so true.

It was wonderful to have the chance to spend quality time this afternoon with the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor crew. In the evening, the dinner break gave me a chance to hang out with the totally fun group of ashtangis I met at the Mt. Shasta hiking and yoga retreat this past August. Tomorrow, I get to catch up with Dana Blonde and Brent Mulligan, the awesome couple who own The Yoga Shala in Calgary, Alberta. I met Dana in 2009, when I traveled to Vancouver to do a weeklong training with David Swenson. I met Dana’s husband in 2010, when I traveled to Southern California to study with Tim Miller.

Yeah, it’s definitely a small world.

There’s also a lot of supportive energy in the air, and I think that’s thanks not only to the Confluence attendees, but also the tone set by the five brilliant but incredibly down-to-earth teachers themselves. Yesterday during Tim’s pranayama workshop, Eddie Stern and Richard Freeman streamed in with all the other students who were attending, and listened as intently as anyone. In today’s backbending workshop, David Swenson slid in and found an open space that happened to be just in front of me. I’m guessing he didn’t bring a mat in so as to not take up a full space (this workshop had been over-registered), but right there on the hotel carpet, he got into sphinx pose, shalabasana (locust), and all of the research poses that Richard put the room in. He looked like he was having a blast.

The level of camaraderie seemed to reach a fever pitch when the afternoon discussion between Tim and Eddie — focused on Hanuman and Ganesha — closed with everyone singing the Hanuman Chalisa. Tim played his harmonium, accompanied by some of his students on a range of other instruments. Jason (@leapinglanka) tweeted this afterward:

Eddie S. & Tim M. shredded Hanuman/Ganesh tonite. Dffrnt generations, East/West coast, didn’t matter: ashtanga tradition is very much alive

‘Yoga is relationship’

Ah, to the backbending.

I was lucky enough to receive my dropbacks during Mysore this morning from Ricard Freeman.

Oh. My. God.

I am blessed to have had, over the past couple of years, expert Ashtanga teachers who have taught me a tremendous amount about stability, security and strength during dropbacks. I am able to surrender fully in dropbacks because I trust fully.

But I’ve never experienced a dropback quite like the ones given by Richard. It’s nearly impossible to describe. Suffice it here, for now, to say that it didn’t feel like Richard was using his muscles or any part of his body, really, to support me in the dropbacks. It instead felt like he was directing an invisible net of soft energy that allowed my spine to cascade like a waterfall up and over, and then return again (almost like a video being played in reverse), with a moment of pure suspension in that moment just before I returned to standing.

Those dropbacks were the perfect trailer for the backbending worskhop held a couple of hours later.

There’s no way I could possible recreate — or even distill, really — the backbending workshop. That’s one of the beauties of being present at a gathering like this. You come to learn, and to share what you learn. But so much of what you learn you can’t adequately share in a straight-forward way (like blogging about it). So much of what you learn you will end up sharing because it will become part of how you see this practice, and that will infuse into the way you practice, the way you interact with your world, and, if you are a teacher, subtle things about the way you teach and adjust students.

If you have the chance to learn about backbending from Richard, who found Iyengar yoga before he found Ashtanga yoga, I highly recommend it. Richard builds it step by step so beautifully — much like the way Tim builds his two-hour bandha workshop, which he sometimes offers when he travels to conduct his weekend workshops.

I will say that Richard opened the backbending workshop by talking about the two dominant patterns — one based on prana, and one based on the opposite, apana, and what we need is to balance the two.

Yoga is relationship. . . . You are a go-between for these patterns — prana and apana. Or, Shiva/Shakti, if you want to be fancy. When they intertwine, you disappear.

A reunion.

© 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.

Tomorrow’s a moon day, so I can stay up late to write this blog post (woo-hoo!)

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I’m pretty excited that tomorrow’s a moon day, because it means two things:

  • I can turn off the earliest alarm setting on my iPhone.
  • I can stay up late to write this blog post.

This is how it used to be — I’d start writing a post a little after 11 p.m., as the Daily Show and the Colbert Report aired. Depending on how many interruptions I had, I might finish around midnight or sometimes as late as 1 or 2 a.m.

Then, this past August, I committed to a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice. Since I’m
solidly six months in, I thought I’d provide an update. Let me emphasize that no one is more surprised by what I’m about to report than I am. I’m sharing this in order to encourage you to try the traditional Ashtanga practice schedule if you’ve ever had the inclination — because it’s pretty powerful stuff. And along the lines of an “If I can do it, anyone can” argument, I have to note that I’ve kept up this schedule despite:

  • Not being a morning person
  • The cold and dark of Michigan’s winter
  • A pretty intense work schedule . . .
  •  . . . combined with teaching, currently, four yoga classes a week . . .
  • . . . while also trying to keep up this blog . . .
  • . . . and creating a wedding website and starting a wedding blog.
  • Oh, yes, the wedding. I’ve kept this up despite planning a wedding. (Don’t even get me started on that. I’m not wedding-planner material — far from it. Suffice it to say that there’s not a single thing about trying to pull a wedding together that comes naturally to me.)
  • Looking for a house to buy.

Insert your own reasons for not having the time.

Let’s take a look at the things I said I missed most when I traded in a studio-based practice for a home-based practice. Here’s what I identified in my Nov. 14, 2011 post:

As I type this post from a hotel room bed, I’m thinking about when I’ll get my practice in each day of this hectic week. And as I think about that, I find myself daydreaming about my ideal practicing conditions:

  • Room temperature around 84 or 85 degrees
  • A time slot of two hours to practice
  • Start time around 1 p.m.
  • A clean, bright studio with large windows — a skylight, even.
  • Hardwood floors

Laughable, right? I have these conditions on precisely zero days a week — and when I’m traveling for work, as I am now, or working particularly long days, or on vacation, it gets even trickier. Who lives in their ideal world, anyway?

So . . . here’s the deal now.

I’m not attached to having a heated space for practice.

While I still prefer to practice in a room heated to at least 75 degrees (and I still love a room that’s around 85 degrees), I don’t long for it. Sometimes I practice in the multipurpose room of the air-conditioned athletic club where I teach twice a week. And the thing is — I don’t mind (?!). I keep a light, long-sleeved top over my yoga tank and I rev up that ujjayi breath. I feel warm enough. I sometimes even sweat, but sweat is no longer a barometer for how cathartic a practice is.

It doesn’t really matter how much room I have. 

It used to really bother me if I practiced in a cleared-off space surrounded by clutter. My apartment is so small that practicing among stuff is inevitable. I don’t mind anymore, however. As long as I have enough room for my mat, it’ll work.

I get up early to practice. Period.

This is perhaps the single most shocking development. When the alarm goes off, I still sometimes hit the snooze button. But I inevitably get up to roll out my mat. I don’t make calculations about whether I could squeeze in a practice that evening, which would give me cover to go back to bed. I get up, and I practice. That’s it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t days when my work day starts so early I have to move with my practice time — but those days are the exception rather than the rule.

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I was worried, as winter set in, that the chill would deter me. I somehow made it through. On that point, many thanks to Angela Jamison for all her encouragement and advice — and for holding me accountable (even while thousands of miles away in Mysore!) to staying with this.

Here are some specifics that helped me.

Hot showers

On really cold days, or on days when I really felt I couldn’t wake up, I took the advice mentioned in the AY: A2 blog to take a hot shower before practice. Worked like a charm whenever I felt I had to resort to it.

Remote heater starter (not really)

On days when I was so tired I didn’t know what I would do, I did hit the snooze button and let myself sleep in a little bit. But before I did that, I got up long enough to plug in the space heater in the living room. So I snoozed while the room heated up, which gave me motivation to get up. I’m not going to lie — if they had the space heater equivalent of a remote car starter, I’d be tempted to buy one.

Avoiding dehydration

In addition to the fact that I don’t like mornings, a big deterrent to practicing immediately after waking up has been that I always wake up feeling parched. So I made a point to drink more water throughout the day. I also started to drink a glass of coconut water right before I went to bed, and a glass of coconut water as soon as I got up. It really helped me avoid that awful feeling of trying to start a practice feeling completely dehydrated.

Sleeping earlier 

This was hard for me. I’ve been a night owl since my elementary school days. Sleeping early runs counter to all my instincts. Initially it was a matter of forcing myself, but eventually, I realized logic sometimes does prevail — you really do get tired earlier if you get up earlier to practice. So I’ve been sleeping earlier — so early that sometimes, I even miss the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Letting go of the concept of practicing yoga to x, y or z

Many of us go to yoga when we are down and need a boost. Or we go to yoga when we’re stressed. Or we go to yoga to try to lose weight. Or to become more flexible. Or to get through an emotionally-trying time. With this practice, it felt at first like I was practicing despite x, y or z — despite having a cold. Despite facing a 12-hour day. Despite really, really — really! — not feeling like practicing. Eventually, when practice is not optional it makes sense that this practice is a matter of hygiene — you wouldn’t go a week without brushing your teeth or showering. Why would you go a week without practicing? Our internal organs and our scattered minds benefit immensely from the daily chance to be wrung out, aired out and refreshed.

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The changes I’ve felt have been subtle but powerful. Some are deeply personal. In general, I can say I feel more connected to my internal machinations (which probably led to my sudden inability to tolerate chicken). It may sound odd, but I feel as if I have a more refined sense of smell. I feel more focused throughout the day.

This is only six months in, so we’ll see where this six-day-a-week practice continues to take me.

In any case . . . while tomorrow’s a moon day, it’s still a work day. So I’m signing off for now.

P.S. — It’s way after midnight, which is when I had hoped to be in bed. So moon day is now technically today — still, woo-hoo!. :-)

© 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.

 

Do you have ‘rockstar syndrome’ when it comes to yoga? Don’t we all, to some degree?

“We all need to learn to be more transparent and, as students, less caught up in rockstar syndrome.” — Waylon Lewis

I just read an intense interview with John Friend conducted by Waylon Lewis of Elephant Journal. Friend, who has become an international phenomenon and was the subject of a New York Times Magazine cover story last year, established the Anusara yoga method. If you’re unfamiliar with Anusara, here is Wikipedia’s description, for what it’s worth:

Anusara yoga is a modern school of hatha yoga started by American-born yoga teacher John Friend in 1997. Friend derived his style from the Iyengar style of yoga and reintroduced elements of Hindu spirituality (specifically derived from Siddha Yoga) into a more health-oriented Western approach to Yoga.

The emphasis of Anusara is on a set of Universal Principles of Alignment which underlie all the physical asanas and are connected to philosophical aspects of the practice. According to the official Anusara Yoga website, the school’s ideology is “grounded in a Tantric philosophy of intrinsic goodness”.[1] Friend states that the term “Anusara (a-nu-sar-a), means ‘flowing with Grace,’ ‘flowing with Nature’ and ‘following your heart,'” as interpreted from the Sanskrit anusāra, meaning “custom, usage, natural state or condition”.

I’ve never been in the same room as Friend. I don’t practice Anusara yoga. I don’t think I’ve ever even been in a straight-up Anusara class. I don’t have strong feelings about the style of yoga or the man behind it.

And I don’t want to get into the details of the serious allegations here because I almost don’t want to know them myself. But it’s all over the Internet, if you look in the right places. At this point, it seems even Friend understands that the only way he will get his side of the story out is through online mediums. Here’s the interview, which, as I said, is intense. Lewis starts to conclude the interview with the line quoted at the top of the post — that, as students, we all need to be “less caught up in rockstar syndrome.”

That’s why I’m writing this post. If nothing else, this sad scandal — and it is nothing short of a scandal, no matter how you look at it — is a good opportunity to ask ourselves (whether we practice Anusara, Iynengar, Ashtanga or any other type of yoga) whether we are prone to getting caught up in the rockstar syndrome with our yoga teachers. I think we’re all prone. And it makes sense — the best teachers can literally change how we see the world and ourselves. They can literally change the course of our lives. That is powerful. I will always be deeply in awe of my teachers, and the darkness that they dispelled for me. But that doesn’t make them infallible.

So what do we do to keep ourselves in check?

What has been resonating in my mind since reading this interview is that often-quoted line among ashtangis: “The practice itself is the true teacher.”

I want to say the best teachers — the ones who see their role as getting students closer to the practice rather than the ones who are perhaps motivated by personal fame or gain — actually build a check into their teaching. They tell you their take, and they tell you to try it out and see for yourself. Investigate it yourself. They’ve spent years — decades perhaps — learning and researching and integrating everything they know, but they are humble enough to still believe that the practice is the true teacher.

No one is infallible. People change. Circumstances change. Even the practice changes — develops over time — but in the end, the practice is always there.

© 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.

 

 

Why Pete Hoekstra’s Super Bowl ad sucks. And oh yeah, why it’s racist.

At the end of each Ashtanga yoga practice, we recite the closing prayer, also called the mangala mantra.

The line I’m thinking about right now is the second English line: “May the leaders of the earth protect in every way by keeping to the right path.”

Screenshot of Politico story

Here in Michigan, it’s been a news story over the past week that Pete Hoekstra, who is running for the U.S. Senate — a pretty powerful position as far as political seats go — would premiere a campaign ad during the Super Bowl. I just saw it in the pre-Super Bowl run-up, and was stunned. I don’t normally talk politics on this blog, it’s hard to not say something about this one. Politico offers a good summary, in saying that the ad:

features an Asian female with a conical straw hat riding a bike through a rice paddy field.

“Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good [sic],” the actress says, in broken English.

“Thank you Michigan Senator Debbie ‘Spend-it-now’. Debbie spend so much American money [sic],” the actress says, without a Chinese accent. “You borrow more and more, from us… we take your jobs. Thank you Debbie ‘Spend-it-now.’”

It gets better. Check out the tortured attempt at an explanation from the Hoekstra camp:

“You have a Chinese girl speaking English – I want to hit on the education system, essentially. The fact that a Chinese girl is speaking English is a testament to how they can compete with us, when an American boy of the same age speaking Mandarin is absolutely insane, or unthinkable right now,” Hoekstra spokesperson Paul Ciaramitaro told POLITICO. “It exhibits another way in which China is competing with us globally.”

“I think that China is our global competitor and the facts are what they are. They hold $1.1 trillion of our debt, their economy is booming, ours is not. It’s not a racial overtone to compare yourself to competitors on the global stage,” added Ciaramitaro. “I think the viewer of an ad is going to recognize satire. … I wouldn’t agree of the characterization [of the ad] as racial.”

My father is Chinese and my mother is Thai, and they came to American in the 1970s to attend graduate school. As a second-generation Asian-American, I try to not be knee-jerky reactive when it comes to labeling something racist. I realize part of it is education. I try to take a measured approach and discern whether I am overly sensitive, someone else is overly sensitive, etc. I know this country has come a long way, but I know there’s a long way to. And this ad proves that latter point.

The ad is racist.

For one thing, the Hoesktra camp talks about education system, but the ad doesn’t take place in a classroom. It relies on all the stereotypes — the straw hat, the rice fields, the broken English, the idea that we (viewers in Michigan and, by extension, America) are threatened by this girl, who stands for her entire society (read: race). The accompanying website is no better — and arguably, it’s worse, with its dragons, fans, red doors and all the rest. (Yep, still not a classroom in sight on the website.)

I’m not going to get into the politics of the claims. I will say that fear-mongering and protectionism do not constitute the right path, and the more our leaders go down that path, the more it gives way to citizens who see the enemy everywhere they turn. I’m not saying we should pretend everyone gets along in a kumbaya kind of way. I am saying that if candidates can’t stay on the right path in a commercial, how can I expect them to stay on the right path about anything else — like foreign policy, immigration law, and yes, economic spending. Because if you thought those were well-spent dollars, then I hate to see what you would want to buy if you were elected.

I won’t embed the video of the ad or do screenshots of the accompanying website, but you have to see it so you can decide for yourself. Here you go.

(Graphic credit: Screenshot from the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute website.) 

© 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.

A beginner’s mind

Last night, I took a class in the viniyoga tradition for the first time. Tonight, I taught the first session of my new three-session introductory workshop to Ashtanga yoga. Both were absolutely lovely experiences for me, and the juxtaposition of the two evenings has me thinking about the beginner’s mind.

The student side

Since discovering Ashtanga yoga a dozen years or so ago, this style of yoga has been my first and true love. It still is — I mean, every time I attend an Ashtanga workshop that allows for deeply exploring the practice from a slightly different angle than I do day to day, I feel almost giddy all over again at what a brilliantly designed method this is and how much I simply love it. But a Yoga International article by Gary Kraftsow that I read over the Thanksgiving holiday last year had me intrigued by viniyoga — in particular its potential as a healing modality — and I learned that someone here in the greater Lansing area has extensive training with Kraftsow. I normally can’t make the time of Kathy Ornish‘s class (that’s what you get for teaching so many yoga classes), but the time happens to work for the next three weeks, so I asked if I could drop in to the series. Happily, she said yes.

It takes a lot of letting go to put aside what you know (or at least what you think you know) and try to fully experience a new style of yoga. What I try to do is listen to a teacher’s instructors and bring in as little of my own experience as possible. It’s impossible to not bring in anything, of course, but I try to stay focused on the very specific instruction and take the words at face value, to the extent that’s possible. So if I’m in a class and I’m asked to feel my spinal movements in cakravakasana, I try to stay within my breath, bones, flesh and joints, focusing on feeling just the effects of the specific instructions rather than channel what years of yoga has taught me about how to breathe, move and hold.

The teaching side

When I teach introductory classes — something I am always grateful for the opportunity to do — I try to work backwards. In these instances, I channel all the amazing teachers I’ve had over the years — I’ve been very lucky that way and have had outstanding instructors — and try to distill the lessons I’ve taken from them. I then construct a set of modules — maybe it’s a set of breathing techniques — that builds, and, I hope, takes someone from square one to that insight that has done so much for me.

Are you getting through? Is it working? It can be hard to tell at first. You have to really try to read the room, stay flexible so that you can change course on a dime if it’s not, and have faith that the power of the method will ultimately radiate out and seep into the consciousness of the students who are in that room in the first place because they are open-minded enough to want to be there.

I’ve long had such deep respect for what language teachers know about what their students know — from straight-up vocabulary words to how much of the structure of the language their students have a handle on. I figure you need at least a few key things to be able to do this effectively — you need to be able to start where the student is and build from there, you need to truly love the subject you’re trying to convey, and you need the humility to carry out the task. That combination of passion and humility provides some important motivation to make second-by-second calculations on what you need to say and do next to even begin to do justice to such an impossibly brilliant system.

I’d write more, but it’s late — past midnight, which means the practice in the morning will be a bit rough (more on how the six-day-a-week practice is going in an upcoming blog post, but the short answer is, thankfully, pretty good!). In any case, I’m really looking forward to being a student again next Tuesday evening with K.O. of Good Space Yoga (located at the Center for Yoga in East Lansing), followed the next evening by the chance to share the second session of this three-week introductory workshop at Sanctuary Yoga in Okemos.

I guess it boils down to this: I’m a student in both cases, a student when I’m learning, and a student even — especially — when I’m occupying the role of an instructor.

I would love to hear your thoughts on attaining/re-attaining/maintaining (however you view it) a beginner’s mind.

(Graphic credit: The Quote Series: In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few (Shunryu Suzuki) via VeRoNiK@ GR‘s Flickr.)

© 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.

 

Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga

This week, I’m excited to be starting a three-session workshop at Sanctuary Yoga. The workshop — which costs $30 and runs 5:15-6:15 p.m. for three consecutive Wednesdays — is designed for anyone who has been curious about Ashtanga yoga but has been either too intimidated or simply too busy to try it. Here’s the description:

This three-week introductory course provides a multilevel introduction to Ashtanga yoga. Each session will include a physical practice — designed to give you a taste of both the challenge and radiance of Ashtanga — and time to discuss historical roots and cultural growth. We’ll cover sun salutations, standing poses, key seated poses and transitions. Each student will leave with resources for continuing a personal yoga practice based on compassion for the body and mind.

Read more or register for Demystifying Ashtanga Yoga. If you have questions about the course, drop me a line at ashtangayogarose [at] gmail.com.

At the conclusion of that workshop, I’ll start teaching a weekly class at Sanctuary Yoga. That class, which begins Feb. 7, will run 7:30-8:45 p.m., and will be a led half primary series class.

A sanctuary for the body-mind-spirit connection

Sanctuary Yoga, located in Okemos just off Okemos Road (across from Ace Hardware and Douglas J), is a relatively new and lovely addition to the greater Lansing area’s expanding landscape of yoga studios. I look around not just this area, but the state of Michigan, and it’s very cool to see the traditional Ashtanga offerings that are increasingly available.

  • In Royal Oak, Matthew Darling’s established Ashtanga Michigan continues to pass on the lineage of this practice.
  • In Ann Arbor, after a few years of what I perceived to be an Ashtanga drought, Angela Jamison has founded AY: A2 and also teaches weekly at A2 Yoga. In a short amount of time — less than two years — she has reinvigorated the community’s Ashtanga practitioners by sharing her knowledge, offering individual attention, bringing in visiting scholars and holding affordable retreats to help students deepen their understanding of the practice.
Beyond the realm of authorized and certified teachers, there’s a steady current too:
  • New and established studios across the Lower Peninsula also seem to be increasing offering led classes. (I haven’t seen that trend in the Upper Peninsula yet — but if I’m wrong, and you know of Ashtanga offerings in the U.P., let me know!)
  • Closer to home, Hilltop Yoga has been offering led Ashtanga classes for years.

In short, day after day (except on moon days 😉 ), week after week, teachers across the state are demystifying this practice, one adjustment or verbal cue at a time.

Beth Baldwin Mackowiak, founder of Sanctuary Yoga, very generously welcomed me to her studio, which she founded last year, and let me set out how I wanted to teach Ashtanga here. So I pitched this workshop out of a spirit of wanting to do my little part to help more people taste this life-altering practice — and decide for themselves if it’s a practice they want to pursue. If they decide that the particular style of Ashtanga yoga is not for them, I hope that the workshop at least provides a foundation to experience the breath and feel how, when connected to movement, it can produce heat, provide a lightness, and calm the mind.

Please to meet you

I think one of the beauties of Ashtanga yoga is that once you strip away the factors that seem to keep people away — the idea that’s it’s too hard, that it’s not compassionate to the body, that only athletes and Type A personalities gravitate toward it — you discover the true awe of the method. I guess I’m aiming to demystify what the superficial aspects of the practice so that people can experience the true beauty of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.

I love teaching basics and introductory yoga classes for beginners. The Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga  I taught until last month at Hilltop Yoga was consistently one of my favorite to teach. No two classes were ever the same, and it was fulfilling to see the spark that students sometimes had with their first connection to their bodies and their internal landscapes. (I would have loved to have continued teaching that class, but I struggled to find the right time on the schedule there to attract a consistent group each week.)

Do you remember your first yoga class? I still remember mine. It was love at first breath.

>>See the rest of my teaching schedule in the greater Lansing area. 

(Graphic info: Wordle based on the description of my new workshop beginning this week. Create your own.) 

© 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.

Careening, or not

It’s been unseasonably warm here in Lansing, Mich., but the streak can’t last forever, and tonight, we’re seeing our first snow in a while. Driving home, I thought about how much I love my new snow tires. I never felt like I was able to hug the road under inclement conditions with my all-season tires — roads felt so slippery even when I drastically reduced my speed. And one incident last winter was the last straw: even though I was driving — crawling, you might say — extremely slowly on the highway, my little Corolla spun and I found myself turned around looking at a semi coming toward me. Luckily, there weren’t many cars on the road, and the truck was able to swerve and avoid me. I vowed then that I would get a car that can handle Midwestern storms by the following winter.

But that was before I knew there’d be a wedding in 2012, and all the expense that comes with that. Plus, I’d rather travel than upgrade a car anyway. I invested in serious snow tires instead.

I realize for people who don’t practice yoga, talk of the non-physical benefits of yoga can sometimes seem vague — grandiose, even (I mean, yoga as a system to help remove human suffering is a pretty big statement).

So…here’s my analogy for the day (because you can’t have too many yoga analogies, right?), for those who don’t practice yoga and want another description of that feeling and that transformation that can come from getting on the mat day after day. For me, snow tires are to winter driving as yoga is to living life — you feel less susceptible to the elements. Definitely not impervious to the elements — just less susceptible. When a light snow turns into driving snow, it may not be pleasant, but you’re less likely to lose control and careen off your path. Better traction, more control, more ability to focus and continue on the journey.

Safe travels.

(Photo credit: “Drive by Snow” by  apographon_de via Flickr Creative Commons.) 

© 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.

If you only read one response to the New York Times’ ‘How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body’ piece…

…may I suggest that it be the one posted today by Eddie Stern?

Before we get to that, however, here’s a quick boilerplate for the roughly nine yoga practitioners out there who haven’t seen “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” the New York Times Magazine piece by William J. Broad — published today in the hard copy edition, and Jan. 5 online. (By the time the magazine hit newsstands and porches today, this story was already old news in the yoga blogging world, because reactions have been fired off steadily since the online posting of the article. So steadily, in fact, that if you do a Google search for “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” you get about 31,000 hits. If you narrow that field down by adding “Ashtanga,” you still get about 1,600 hits. And none of this takes into account all the comment threads ricocheting around Facebook over the past few days.)

Here’s a snippet of the original article, which is an excerpt from Broad’s soon-to-be-released book:

Not just students but celebrated teachers too, [profiled yoga teacher Glenn] Black said, injure themselves in droves because most have underlying physical weaknesses or problems that make serious injury all but inevitable. Instead of doing yoga, ‘they need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,’ he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. ‘Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.’

Interesting responses include:

One response that seems to have particularly struck a chord with a range of ashtangis came from The Reluctant Ashtangi’s “Reading blogs can wreck your body.” The piece, which is well worth a read, says this in part:

Other things that Wreck Your Body:

– Hard Partying Wrecks Your Body (wassup, Charlie Sheen?!)

Food Wrecks Your Body

Tofu Wrecks Your Body (actually, this one just wrecks your brain, but what good is a body without a brain?)

Forward Head Posture Wrecks Your Body (with a nod oto the Alexander Method)

Alcohol Wrecks Your Body Or, as so eloquently expressed by The Smiths, “…past the pub that wrecks your body.” I’ll leave you on that glorious note. And, um, don’t dance or anything. That might wreck your body too.

 

The piece cooly ends with a YouTube clip of “The Queen is Dead.”

And then comes “How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga,” a post with the kind of clarity and flare that can only come from Eddie Stern, director of Ashtanga Yoga New York. Here’s a taste:

When there is a great potential for making money, quality is usually the first thing to be sacrificed. Fast food, anyone? It is unfortunate that this is exactly what we are facing now – yoga has been McDona-fied. It has been reduced from a practice that traditionally demanded dedication, discipline, sacrifice, humility, surrender, suffering, love, devotion, and rigorous self-investigation, to something that you can now learn to teach in a weekend. Or, more popularly, in a mere 200 hours you can become a bonafide, registered yoga instructor. 200 hours is spit. It is a joke. And it is a joke that is leading an entire tradition – that granted even in India was subject to ridicule – to an even greater harm. This is because we have an opportunity, in the West, to be leaders in the rising field of yoga, by bringing these transformative teachings to places where they will result in great good. Though it is true that this is already happening – in schools, prisons, hospitals, with veterans, and with everyday people who walk into a class off of the street – it is also true that a rotten apple can spoil the barrel, and this is what I fear is happening. And, it is a mighty big apple.

I miss the early days when I was first doing yoga in NYC, in the mid- to late 1980′s. The feeling of freshness, of being clean and free, of feeling that a whole, new world was opening in me. There were no products for sale, no fifty types of yoga mats, just a towel and some cut-off sweatpants to practice in, or a pair of white, cotton ‘yoga’ pants that I could buy on Bleecker St. for $5. I still feel that freshness when I practice, and I love that – but when I look around at what is happening with yoga in America, I can’t help but feel sad.

When I saw the title of Broad’s article, the first thing that came to mind was Ice Cube’s old hip-hop song ‘Check Yo’ Self’ (‘You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self’) – pretty good advice for the over-enthusiastic in yoga or any physical endeavor. I was going to post it, but it is so inappropriate, and the issue of injuries is too serious an issue; I will not make light of anyone’s pain. But, searching out Ice Cube did lead me down the dark path of youtube, where two hours later, I found myself still trolling through videos that fill me with a happy nostalgia for the rawness of youth – of early punk rock, and the passion and energy that was being expressed through so many amazing songs.

Sanskrit means refined, and many of the yogis of India were extremely elegant, in a simplicity-filled way. The rishis, who became the world’s first yogis, purposely left society to meditate in the forests, turning their backs on the mundanity and suffering of the world. They discovered something that ultimately can be of great benefit to us all, if we use it wisely.  This is quite the opposite of the rawness of music that I grew up with, like the Clash or Sex Pistols – but, still, listening to White Man (in Hammersmith Palais) still fills me with the same feeling of freedom I felt when I first heard it when I was probably about 14.  And who can argue with this lyric: “The new groups/ are not concerned/ with what there is to be learned/ they put on suits/ they think it’s funny/ turning rebellion into money”. I always loved that line, and now it just makes me think of Lululemon.

I’d write more, but my throat is on fire (rough return from my travels abroad), and I need to try to go back to bed. Just as well — you’re better off anyway leaving this blog and heading over to read the rest of what Eddie Stern has to say and see which YouTube video he ended his post with.

© 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.

 

Florence travel journal (part 1): Firenze as home base

 

YogaRose.net travel journal for Florence, Italy
Part 1: Firenze, Italia as home base

–>Trip snapshot

–>Five sketches from Florence and Tuscany:

–>A word about the travel journal
–>Future posts in this series

>>TRIP SNAPSHOT<<

Some visitors to Italy fall in love with Venice. Others fulfill their dreams by making a pilgrimage to Rome. For me and my finance, Scott, the trip of a lifetime took us to Firenze, Italia, our home base for a seven-night visit that included New Year’s Eve. We walked and ate our way around Florence and left the city limits for a day to peek into some of the hill towns of Tuscany. Thanks to frecce alta velocita, Italy’s low-carbon-footprint and fantastically fast train line, we also got day-trip glimpses of cities to the north and south that capture so many imaginations.

Italy is a country we have independently longed to visit, and what better time than half a year before our wedding, after which time it’ll be…well, time to settle down. This was our chance to make sure we would never have to say, “If only we had…” It was our honeymoon before the honeymoon — a chance to revel in the kinds of culinary beauty and artistic genius that only Italy can offer, and an opportunity to take some of that inspiration back with us to deepen the hues through which we view the world.

Scott and I unloaded our suitcases not too long ago — we’re back home later than scheduled, thanks to a delayed departure in Florence, a near missed connection in Amsterdam and unfavorable headwinds back across the Atlantic. But of course we’re already asking ourselves if we’ll ever return. We hope so. To help our odds, before we left Florence, we paid homage to a popular bronze statue of a wild boar and did as many visitors do — slipped a coin into the mouth of the cinghiale, rubbed its snout and made a wish to return to the city that historically was the cradle of Renaissance arts and personally has become a cradle of new shared memories.

I’m starting this travel series with five sketches from our week there. Check back for future blog posts that will include:

>>Five sketches about Florence and Tuscany<<

463 STEPS
Not for the weak of heart (physically or romantically): What a cathedral whose dome became the model for Renaissance domes can teach us about confidence and faith

On our very last evening in Florence, we capped off our trip by climbing the 463 steps up to the cupola of Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore), Florence’s stunning Gothic cathedral. What makes this cathedral remarkable is not just that the dome, which took 14 years to build, was the first Renaissance dome, or that it was the largest since Rome’s Pantheon. What’s incredible to me is the story that’s told about the cathedral — that it was originally constructed with a gaping hole where the dome would go, because no one quite knew how to create a dome that could span that space. Can you imagine the immovable belief that things will all work out? And indeed, things did work out, because architect Filippo Brunelleschi came up with an ingenious double shell construction in which the skeleton of a dome was filled in by interlocking bricks fashioned together in a herringbone pattern. This created a dome that relied on its own support as it grew slowly upwards.

Not surprisingly, the 463-step trek up is winding, steep and claustrophobic (there are several passes so narrow you get pretty intimate with tourists making the return journey), and there’s really not much of a warning about any of that when you slide over 8 euros (about $11) for the entrance ticket. I would have expected an impossible-to-miss notice for anyone who is pregnant or has a heart condition, but perhaps that is the overly cautious American in me.

Neither the guidebooks nor Duomo officials adequately prepare you for the trip up — or for the view at the pinnacle. We arrived around 6 p.m. on a perfectly clear evening and marveled at the Campanile, the 270-foot bell tower designed by Giotto. Walking around, we could see the Accademia, where David — created by Michelangelo Buonarroti when he was just 26 — is showcased. Here were all the avenues lined with holiday lights and over there was the Uffrizi Gallery, where you can find Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. We could easily see Santa Croce Church, famous for housing the tombs of Galileo Galilei and Michelangelo. We slipped one euro into the binocular stand and looked with disbelief into the windows of the rooftop restaurant where we had enjoyed our divine New Year’s Eve dinner a couple nights before.

After the initial shock of this perfect view, it seemed most couples realized the romance of the winds and the perch, and shared quick kisses or longer expressions of their gratitude for each other.

>>IF YOU GO. We started the climb about an hour before the last entry, and we’re pretty sure we got lucky with the best possible conditions anyone could have walking up. Florence’s high season is April though October, although July and August can be unbearably hot. It must be a snail’s pace up to the top when the crowds are in town, and I’m sure temperatures rise accordingly in those narrow corridors. After this trip, Scott and I are sure we prefer traveling during a destination’s off season, even if it means cooler temperatures and higher chances of some closures. No matter what the season, if you go, take into consideration whether you want a daytime or nighttime cityscape, and get in line very early in the day or late in the evening. Make sure you’re hydrated going up (that’s the yoga teacher in me), but not so much so that you’ll need to use the bathroom any time soon.

>>LESSONS FROM THE CLIMB. Rick Steves describes the Duomo climb in his guidebook as “463 plunges on a Renaissance StairMaster,” but the journey reminded me less of exercise and more of a journey of faith that all these stairs were leading somewhere worthwhile. You’re placing your feet on each stony step, unable to see ahead and cognizant of the futility in looking back. I had this same type of feeling many times during Hilltop Yoga’s tough 300-hour yoga teacher training program, when I was wondering whether I should stop the emotional and physical gauntlet — a good yoga teacher training program provokes some heavy and often unwanted self-reflection — and turn around. But after the formal program ended and I taught my first Ashtanga class — after I saw the practice of yoga from that vantage point — I knew it had been the right journey.

If you’re ever in Florence, take the climb up, and see what the journey evokes for you.

WHO NEEDS A CAPPUCCINO
Try the cioccolata calda instead

Americans do not know how to appreciate hot chocolate. Italians do. People always talk about Italy and the espresso and cappuccino available there. But what about the hot chocolate? The first time I ordered a cioccolata calda I looked around to see if anyone else was drinking the same thing, and whether they were pouring milk or something in the cup to cut it. I couldn’t accept the fact that the beautifully thick, smooth molten chocolate inside this cup was mine to enjoy as is. What do Italians do when they visit the United States and have their first cup of hot chocolate? Crying seems like an appropriate response. I might not mind winter in Michigan so much if we had this kind of creamy expression of warmth. (OK, I’d probably still mind just as much, but it would at least be a little something to look forward to on the coldest days.)

>>IF YOU GO. Try cioccolata calda in Siena at the Caffe A. Nannini. And by the way, about cappuccinos — for Italians, it’s a breakfast drink. Restaurants will serve it all day if that’s what tourists want, but if you want to do as the locals do, only order this frothy goodness in the morning.

>>LESSONS FROM THE SIPS. Too often, I try to split the difference. In my brief visit, I found that Italian culture fosters making a commitment — whether it’s heavy hot chocolate or a three-hour dinner — and that, in turn, can allow you to live more fully in the moment.  

WILD FOR WILD BOAR
Giving something a (second, third, fourth…) chance

Cinghiale (cheeng-GAH-lay), wild boar, is a noted Tuscan specialty. I’ve never loved the other white meat (though as you know, I’m having issues with the main white meat these days), but when I paid a visit to Memphis a couple of years ago and had ribs down there, I understood, for the first time, the appeal of ribs. Following in the same spirit, I gained a new appreciation in Florence for prosciutto (cured ham), salami and cinghiale. When done right, these meats have a refined and comforting flavor. My single favorite dish from the entire trip (more on that in the next blog post) was pappardelle di cinghiale, wild boar with Tuscany’s extremely wide, flat ribbons of pasta.

>>IF YOU GO. Unless you’re a vegan or vegetarian, don’t be afraid to try cingahle in a few of the various forms available — in pasta, as salami, as a main dish or in a stew. If you hate it, at least you’ll know you gave it all the chances it deserved.

>>LESSONS FROM THE BITES OF BOAR. Location, location, location. I’ve learned that about so many things now — that you risk missing out on something pretty cool if you are too quick to write something off when you haven’t tried it in the right context.

THE TOWN OF SIENA IS DELIGHTFUL 
Who wants prenup?

Drive 35 miles south of Florence and you’ll hit Siena, Florence’s historic archrival and interestingly the first European city to ban automobile traffic from its main square. Siena is, in a word, delightful. An intense horse race called Palio di Siena is held twice every year on the grounds of Il Campo, the town center.

Our local tour guide explained that the city is comprised of 17 neighborhoods, or contradas. It sounds as intensely tribal as a city can get. Each contrada has its own church and fountain (and sometimes museum too), along with its own flag, a mascot (our tour guide made sure we knew she was from the rhinoceros group) and a rival neighborhood. Each neighborhood has a horse that, if chosen by lottery (the town center can only accommodate 10 horses out of the 17), runs the Palio di Siena. It’s a bareback race, and the first horse to cross the finish line — with or without a jockey still hanging on — wins.

Laughing, our tour guide also explained that two people from different neighborhoods who get married will sometimes determine their children’s allegiances in a prenuptial agreement. That sounds to me like a Michigan State University fan and a University of Michigan fan signing a prenup determining if the kids will wear blue or green. Incredible.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t breeze through town like a tourist, reading the guidebook and looking at buildings and architecture. You have to talk to local residents to realize why this town sparkles. I know that’s true of pretty much any place worth traveling to, but it’s so true here.

>>LESSONS FROM THE TOWN. That I need to go back to spend more time there.

 CARING ABOUT CARBON FOOTPRINTS
That’s the ticket

Floating around one of our guidebooks as a bookmark is my Venice fast train ticket. Right on the ticket there’s a number — 26 Kg — that’s confusing if you’re not used to taking these trains. It turns out this number indicates the estimated amount of CO2 saved by taking this particular trip you’ve just paid 43 euros for. The trip we took to Rome — also at 43 euros each way for second class — saved 32 Kg of CO2 each way. What a sensible idea — telling people in concrete terms how the decisions they are making right now are making a difference right now.

I also learned on this trip that Smart cars — which as you can image are ubiquitous in this part of the world — can also park perpendicular to the curb, as seen here:

People say Italian drivers are crazy. After this trip, I see why and while I agree, I’d add that they are crazy skilled. It’s beyond me how people can drive even small cars through some of these narrow streets, navigate confusing city-center traffic-free zones, snake their way into a too-small parking spot, not kill anyone along the way, and keep their cool the whole time.

>>IF YOU GO. Don’t rent a car. Period. Let professionals (taxi drivers, bus drivers and train conductors) get you from point A to point B.

>>LESSONS FROM THE RIDES. Every single trip I’ve made to Europe (I’m up to four now) has underscored how much farther the U.S. could be when it comes to public transportation. The technology is there — we just have to care enough to put the policies into place that would make it happen.

>>A word about the travel journal<<

I’ve long wanted to follow up my various trips with blog posts that offer something of a yoga-themed travel journal, but it simply hasn’t happened, mostly due to time constraints, I suppose. On this trip, I spent seven hours on fast trains getting to and from Venice and Rome, and nearly 20 hours on planes to and from Florence — so I had time to start in on some blog posts before returning home. I hope that with this post, I’ll start to make it a point to do similar types of guides when I travel — some heavier on yoga and others, like this one, much less so.

If you’ve been to this region, please share your experiences and tips in the comments! I would love to hear about your trips, whether yoga-related or not.

Ciao, till the next post.

© 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.

Turning down the silence in a yoga room

It’s 1:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep, despite taking four Benadryls over the course of the evening to fight off what I’m hoping is pet dander allergies (as opposed to the onset of a cold). If it weren’t for this little space heater next to me, the only sound here on the second floor of my future in-laws’ house would be the sporadic clicking of this MacBook keyboard.

Observing this near-silence has brought me to a topic I’ve been wanting to blog about: the words that fill the space of a yoga studio. It’s hard not to think at least a little bit about verbal instruction as a yoga student, since some teachers are so gifted at it and some really are not. But I sure have thought quite a bit about verbal instruction since the very first time I had to get up, during yoga teacher training, to lead a class through a sequence.

As a journalist, I learned it’s much harder to say less than to say more. One of my journalism instructors liked to tell us, “Drown your kittens.” When you first start writing, you get attached to your words, and when you look at an article, you can’t see anything that can be cut. You’ve got to do it though, even if it feels like drowning your kittens. In print journalism, you’ve got to do it for space considerations, for one. But more important, you produce higher quality work — better writing — when you’ve carefully considered the need for each phrase, each word.

I think it can be a very strong impulse for yoga teachers who don’t teach in the silent Mysore method to use words to do it all: explicate proper alignment in poses, keep students safe, talk students through challenges, and inspire them along the way. There’s nothing wrong with that, in my opinion. The key is striking a balance. I’ve been in yoga classes where the instructor didn’t seem to say enough to be clear, and I’ve been in classes where the instructor suffered from verbal diarrhea. Yoga classes taught in a stream of consciousness narrative fashion are the most distracting ones for me, because once I latch on to the steady flow of words, the more I dissect what’s being said rather than turning my brain off so that I can be present on the mat.

The longer I teach, the less I try to say with my words and the more I try to say with my hands. In an Ashtanga class, I try to be a steady drumbeat with the Sanskrit counts and the counts of five breaths in each pose. It’s definitely an acquired skill that takes experience and keen awareness, and — like a yoga practice — it’s something to be continually refined.

In short, it’s not easy.

Angela Jamison wrote a thought-provoking post on the AY:A2 blog about the poverty of verban instruction:

Pattabhi Jois started out saying that ashtanga method was 5% theory, 95% practice. He later scaled that back to 1% theory. Perhaps the 5% was getting abused.

Talking about experience tends to insulate us from a moment’s raw intensity, from subtle layers of experience, and from the transience of pain and pleasure.

I wonder how we’re really using words in yoga class. Do we know how to use language to set ourselves free in our bodies… or do we more often use it to solidify difficulties and obstacles? Do words come up due to anxiety about impermanence or attempts to pin things down, a need to prove something, or maybe unwillingness to just be quiet and do the technique? I wonder, too, if talking in practice—including my own verbal instruction—increases an egoic sense that we know what it’s is all about.

Read the entire post here.

This reminds me of something striking that New Yorker writer Larissa MacFarquhar said during one of the Wesleyan Writers Conference panels I attended in 2004. I found a written synopsis online of the same thought. Larissa talks about how interviewing is “not a normal conversation”:

You want them to talk. One of the ways that you can do that is by training yourself not to do what you would usually do. Say a silence falls; you might try to fill it. Silences are awkward and hard to take, especially if you don’t know a person very well. I first thought about this when I heard a story about Joan Didion, a very famous journalist who has written for the New Yorker in the past. She is incredibly, paralyzing shy. She’s also very tiny. And when she meets a stranger, she is just struck dumb and totally terrified. And apparently, the effect this has on her subjects is that, because she is so nervous, they will blurt out just anything, just to fill the silence. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And it’s true. It’s almost as though there’s a sort of equilibrium that has to be found. If you shut up, they have to speak. Otherwise, it’s unbearable, it’s too uncomfortable. And I really began to learn this when I started to read transcripts of my interviews. I heard myself making the most idiotic mistakes. They would say: ‘And then I took the ax and was about to —‘ and I would break in with, ‘What’s your favorite color’ because I wasn’t listening to what they where saying. I was just thinking of something else. I wasn’t shutting up.

Whether it’s writing, interviewing or teaching yoga, it’s an important process to examine our proclivity to turn down the silence by turning up the volume (both decibel and quantity) of words.

What do you think about words that fill the space of a yoga studio?

(Photo credit: “Q is for Quieted” via bmhkim’s Flickr photostream)

© 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.

Thinking, fast and slow — about yoga, gurus and everything else

Illustration by David Plunkert, via The New York Times

Thinking, Fast and Slow is sitting next to me right now, and I’m so into it that I debated whether to write this post or keep reading. Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, immediately tells the reader that his aim with the book can be boiled down to what he would like to happen with watercooler conversations. He’d like this text to:

improve the ability to identify and understand errors of judgement and choice, in others and eventually ourselves, by providing a richer and more precise language to discuss them. In at least some cases, an accurate diagnosis may suggest an intervention to limit the damage that bad judgements and choices often cause.

It’s a seriously ambitious goal, to be sure, and Kahneman’s important text offers nothing less than a fascinating approach to understanding when we can and can’t trust our intuition.

Intuition is an interesting thing — especially in the context of yoga, since one of the many benefits of the practice is that it’s designed to help us see through the veil of illusion. Sometimes — often? — our conditioned minds get us into trouble. Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations — or the spinning — of the mind. Once we quiet the mind down, can Thinking, Fast and Slow help us think more clearly about thinking clearly off the mat, in our day-to-day lives?

This next passage somehow reminded me about all those times that, as students, we swear our teachers just read our mind. How did they know that was the adjustment I was craving? How did they know my back/hips/[insert body part] needed that pressure? How did they fix that back/hips/[insert body part]?

We have all heard such stories of expert intuition: the chess master who walks past a street game and announces ‘White mates in three’ without stopping, or the physician who makes a complex diagnosis after a single glance at a patient. Expert intuition strikes us as magical, but it is not. Indeed, each of us performs feats of intuitive expertise many times each day. Most of us are pitch-perfect in detecting anger in the first word of a telephone call, recognize as we enter a room that we were the subject of the conversation, and quickly react to subtle signs that the driver of the car in the next lane is dangerous. Our everyday intuitive abilities are no less marvelous than the striking insights of an experienced firefighter or physician — only more common. (p. 11)

I kind of loved thinking about this idea in the context of our relationships with our most cherished teachers, who never cease to amaze us. Trust your guru, yes. Be grateful for, and moved by, the expertise and the inspiration. But remember that you have incredible everyday intuitive abilities as well.

That said, Thinking, Fast and Slow is about how to discern the quality of intuitive decision-making versus rational decision-making. Sometimes our gut is plain old wrong — so how do you know what you can rely on? You’ll simply have to read the book — and I highly, highly recommend that you get it sooner rather than later (one for yourself and one as a holiday gift, perhaps?). If you need more encouragement, read this New York Times review, this Washington Post review and this Financial Times review.

In any case, this post has kept me from the book long enough. I’m headed back in. Ciao, for now.

© 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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The fine print:

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

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

Brand spanking new, handmade herbal eye pillow by Jade Sims

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

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

 

 

 

To rest or not to rest

Ashtangis, are you taking Friday as a moon day and resting?

I recently posted an update to a blog post with this info:

>>Update 12.5.2011: This morning, @claudiayoga tweeted this: “Seems the moon-days on Saturday do not apply in #Mysore. Moved to Friday, enjoy the rest in India! #Ashtanga” She linked to this Suzy’s Mysore Blog post (a diary of six months of practicing Ashtanga in Mysore, India) that says, “…this week is a short practice week as Sharath has moved the Full Moon from Saturday to Friday.”

This was in response to the part of the post that said:

This reminds me that this month, much to the chagrin of ashtangis (see this @ayct tweet and this @claudiayoga tweet), both moon days fall on a Saturday — which means devoted ashtangis who adhere strictly to the rule will get two fewer days of rest this month.

Since then, the @JoisYoga Twitter account sent this out: “Moon Day Encinitas: Fri Dec 9 –http://eepurl.com/huiIE

What are you and/or your studio/shala doing? I may be floating this moon day again, even though I try not to do that — but I feel as if I’m looking down the barrel of a powder keg of a month. And speaking of resting…it’s past midnight and I need to try to get to sleep.

© 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.

 

Kino MacGregor on the logic of practicing six days a week

Kino MacGregor this past week posted an article on the logic of the six day a week Mysore-style Ashtanga method:

Memorizing the postures allows students to focus internally, which is the real goal of yoga. When you do not know what you will be doing next your attention will always be on your teacher rather than within yourself. Once you memorize the sequence of postures that your teacher determines is right for you the entire practice transfers deeper into the subconscious level. Practicing in the Mysore Style method allows you to have days where you go deeply into your practice and also days where you go gently into your practice while performing all the same postures. This natural variation prevents injury, trains you to listen to the body and increases internal body awareness.

As you might know if you’ve been reading this blog lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about practicing six days a week — so Kino’s article comes at a particularly interesting time for me.

If you only practice when it is convenient or when you feel good then yoga is more of a hobby then a lifestyle. But sincere spiritual practice has never been a leisurely activity if it is to produce the results of awakening. True spiritual practice is an unbroken commitment to do everything it takes to see the deepest truth there is. It is not something you can choose to look at only on Monday and Wednesday for an hour and pretend it does not exist for the rest of the week.

This reminds me that this month, much to the chagrin of ashtangis (see this @ayct tweet and this @claudiayoga tweet), both moon days fall on a Saturday — which means devoted ashtangis who adhere strictly to the rule will get two fewer days of rest this month. My commentary: Ugh! It’s hard enough that in the U.S., we’re in full holiday swing in December. I’m traveling at the end of the month too, which means it’s sort of a triple whammy for me — a big test indeed, now that I am four months in with my six day a week practice. The good news, though, is that I am at this point committed to this lifestyle. Today was a great example. Worst. Practice. Ever. The whole practice felt like crap. Rose circa December 2010 wouldn’t even have gotten on the mat. But Rose now, at the end of 2011, does and powers through, despite how awful the whole practice felt. I’m hoping that Rose circa winter 2012 will get through the practice with far less mental resistance.

Back to Kino’s article, which offers somes advice for those who may be resistant:

The recommendation to take on a six day a week practice is often hard to accept for new students, so new students can easily build up to a full six day a week practice by starting with three days a week. Then once that level of regularity is established one additional day a week can be added every six months until the full six days a week is within reach. One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one.

Finally, I like that this article includes a roadmap of the primary series (emphasis mine):

The test of the Standing Postures lies in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana where you must balance on one leg, lift your leg with its own strength, forward bend, suck in the lower belly and externally rotate your hip joint all in one posture. Once you can easily perform this posture the work of the Standing Sequence is generally well-integrated and it is safe to move onward in the series. The next series of postures that presents a gateway are the four Marichyasana postures that require a series of binds where you clasp you hand either behind your back or around your leg in a twisted posture and maintain either half lotus or a very strong extended leg. The careful placement of every posture that precedes this section of the practice is aimed at developing the internal strength and flexibility needed to perform these postures with ease. Marichysana D is the pinnacle of this portion of the series, being the most difficult twist and half lotus combination. Finally the grand crescendo of the Primary Series is half way through, Supta Kurmasana where internal strength, external rotation and forward bending are challenged to a high degree in order to get both legs behind the head. After this point in the series the postures help transition from flexion of the spine to extension so that Urdhva Danurasana or Backbending can be performed with ease. In this way the logic of the Primary Series builds up to certain postures that test alignment, inner strength and flexibility in order to make sure that the asana practice is solid and stable before moving on.

That’s one of the many things I adore about the Ashtanga series: You don’t have to know anything about the logic of the sequences to appreciate it — your body, mind and spirit will give you all the signals you need to confirm that it’s an effective system. But if you do decide to study the design of the sequences, there is a treasure trove of data points that, once strung together, help you learn a tremendous amount about the way your body and mind work.

>>Update 12.5.2011: This morning, @claudiayoga tweeted this: “Seems the moon-days on Saturday do not apply in #Mysore. Moved to Friday, enjoy the rest in India! #Ashtanga” She linked to this Suzy’s Mysore Blog post (a diary of six months of practicing Ashtanga in Mysore, India that says, “…this week is a short practice week as Sharath has moved the Full Moon from Saturday to Friday.” Woot!

(Photo credit: String of Pearls: Blurring by Steve Groom 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.

 

Calling the Ashtanga police (and by the way, why is everyone talking about a naked yoga instructor?)

My friend Jade Sims, a fellow ashtangi and social media geek, shared this Xtranormal video today on Facebook and tagged me, saying I was sure to love it. (Why she thought I would love this, I have no idea. :-) )

And I guess I could love it, except the video maker left out a few things. Like broomadhya drishti in the first surya namaskara vinyasa. Or how about reciting the Mangala mantra? What about ladies’ holiday?

I’m kidding, of course. I think. 😉

Make your own home video
By the way, do you know about Xtranormal? I’ve loved Xtranormal for a long time — great for little in-jokes like this. It’s really easy to use — you feed the script, select characters and movements, and viola! You’ve just made a cartoon video of extraordinarily humorous potential (and, if all goes well, proportion as well). Claudia Azula last year did an Xtranormal video on the lame excuses that keep people away from yoga — check it out here.

So You Want to be a Journalist” is my favorite Xtranormal video of all time — which is laugh-till-your-stomach-hurts-funny especially if you are, like me, a formal journalist and a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism grad.

By the way, if this video technology looks vaguely familiar and you’re not quite sure why, it might be because you’ve seen the “I’m Not Your Daddy I’m Your Grandpa” Geico commercial. 

Another kind of home video?
In the scale of things today, though, this does not seem to be the trending yoga controversy. Nope — that distinction goes to the naked yoga instructor who may or may not have broken up the marriage of Kim Kardashian. And, proving that the yoga world is a pretty small one, fellow Ashtanga blogger Claudia, mentioned above, has taken classes from this guy! I wouldn’t take the time to dignify a Kardashian controversy except that, well, you can’t make this stuff up and Claudia says he’s legit — a great instructor, even. I’m looking forward to what Steve Cahn of the Confluence Countdown blog, who has been all over the Lululemon/Ayn Rand controversy, will say about this one.

Are you serious? Seriously, are you serious? There are way too many inappropriate cutlines for this photo…

>>Update 9:04 p.m. Steve claims he’s traveling and “busy” — I have other theories — but Bobbie Allen, the better half of the Confluence Countdown, took up the mantle and posted this response to the whole naked yogi phenomenon. Read the posted-in-irony “A post about shame.” When they’re not stooping to take up my challenges, they’re blogging about topics with some real social weight, like Gandhi, Occupy Wall Street protests, pepper spray and a teacher’s responsibility.)

>>Update to the update. Once Steve finished up his travels, he got down to business and threw up this post about what we can all learn from the naked yoga Kardashian tale.

© 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.

 

You say tomato, I say ‘tomahto,’ you say swan, I say…pigeon? Does it matter what the posture is called?

This past weekend, my sisters and I took a class taught by a teacher trained in the TriYoga tradition. It was a much-needed post-Thanksgiving flow. I’ve never taken a TriYoga class before, though, so it took some getting used to to hear adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog) referred to instead as “mountain pose.” Or to be guided into what feels like pigeon pose and be told it’s swan. Uttanasana (standing forward fold) was cued as “Earth touch.”

I didn’t remember ever hearing about TriYoga before that class, so I hopped on my iPhone on the ride back from the yoga studio and learned that, according to TriYoga.com, TriYoga began this way:

On January 5, 1980, as Kali Ray led a group in meditation, she shared a concentration technique of energy rising up the spine. As soon as the meditation began, kriyavati siddhi awakened within her. At that moment, students witnessed her flow of asana, pranayama and mudra. This later was to become known as the birth of TriYoga. Moved by the powerful energy and beauty of these flows, students asked that she teach what they had witnessed. In this way, Kaliji began to teach TriYoga, which arose as did the ancient yoga, from the continuing flow of kriyavati. Kriyavati, as defined in Sanskrit texts, is kundalini manifesting on the plane of hatha yoga.

I also learned about TriYoga Prasara (TriYoga Flows):

TriYoga’s hatha yoga method, TriYoga Prasara or TriYoga Flows, integrates posture, breath and focus that is asana, pranayama and mudra. The inspiration and guidance for the TriYoga Flows comes from yogini Kaliji’s direct experience of kriyavati. This inner prana flow has given the knowledge to develop the systematic and complete TriYoga method. The evolution of TriYoga Flows continues to be guided by kriyavati.

If you are curious, you can watch videos of TriYoga Flows or see this discussion of a sequence.

Yoga Chicago covered Kali Ray’s visit to Chicago in 2010:

Kaliji brought three TriYoga teachers to help us, and we all received lots of personal attention. They began by demonstrating TriYoga’s graceful, tai-chi-like movements, which had them effortlessly flowing in and out of poses ranging from the easy to the most advanced. ‘There’s a feeling of relaxation in action,’ Kaliji explained. ‘Asana is being used as a tool of concentration. You are never losing awareness. Each movement is equally important.’

Read the full Yoga Chicago article it here.

One of the most interesting parts of the sequence for me involved doing a breathing method — kapalabhati pranayama — while in a standing pose (trikonasana). In power yoga classes, my teachers will sometimes have us do bhastrika pranayama in a seated lotus, but doing a fiery breath in a standing pose was a new experience for me.

There are definite differences in postures of the same name between the Ashtanga system and the poses I see in B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, and it always fascinates me why one school of yoga settles on a certain approach (parighasana in the style of Light on Yoga and parighasana in the Ashtanga style — gate pose — come to mind).

A posture’s name shouldn’t matter, right? What’s important is a posture’s design and how someone experiences it. I can’t help but wonder, however, if we sometimes initially make a different connection to a pose depending on the posture name. Is it easier to feeling more grounded when you have four points of connection to the mat if you know you’re in mountain pose versus downward-facing dog? Do you lose some of the suppleness of down dog if you call it mountain? What do you think?

I’ll let Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald take it from here:

(Illustration credit: By Michael Renner via Flickr Creative Commons license)  

© 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.)

 

 

 

End game? Untethering the act of practicing from the feeling I want from practice

It’s a bumpy plane ride back to Michigan–so bumpy they’ve had to discontinue the beverage service. I really wanted my ginger ale, but I guess I’ll have to be content with observing my sensation of thirst rather than observing the sensation of that thirst being satiated. It should be a little easier to do now that I’ve finished reading The Mirror of Yoga by Richard Freeman, which dwells quite a bit on the process of, and benefits of, making room for clear observation rather than seeing everything through the prism of preconceived ideals.

On the way to California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with my family, I blogged about Freeman’s story about the misguided man digging his wells. On the flight back, I want to touch on one paragraph in the book that speaks to how to free yourself from “the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is.”

What makes this topic particularly interesting to me right now is thinking about what the process of unhooking ideals from experiences might say about the possibility of doing the same for other aspects of our lives–from our body image to our careers to our most intimate relationships.

In “Cutting Through Fundamentalism,” the last chapter of the book, Freeman writes:

Practicing yoga is not always easy. Sometimes the biggest difficulty is arranging a time to do it: starting the session of practice. But if you can trick yourself into just beginning, it often works out. If you have arranged a time to practice but do not really feel like practicing, the trick is to convince yourself to simply stand up in a samasthitih, to take three breaths, thinking that you will allow yourself to go off and do something else after that simple ritual. Then after standing in samasthitih, it often turns out that the idea of taking a big inhale, raising your arms and doing half of a sun salutation is alluring. Having done that, one full sun salutation before quitting may seem reasonable. Soon you may find yourself doing two, and then three sun salutations; and then all of a sudden, you are in the groove and the practice continues. (p. 203)

First off, I think this is true of anything–hitting the gym, doing exercise videos at home, learning how to play an instrument, and on and on.

A few years ago, before I started a more regular yoga practice, I used to let my car decide if I went to class after work or not. By that I mean that I usually *wanted* to go to class after work, but often I didn’t *feel* like going to work. Usually, it was because I was so drained (it was a very taxing job) that even though I knew I would feel better after moving my body in coordination with my breath for 90 minutes, I also knew I would feel better if I simply went home and collapsed. But as time went on, my car pointed me in the direction of the yoga studio more and more consistently, to a point where it was routine to go to studio after work, even if I didn’t feel like it.

One reason the practice can be difficult is that the mind is a very strict taskmaster, and it often creates images of what practice is or it should be. The parameters your own mind sets for the practice may erode the foundation of the practice itself; if you cannot do a ‘good’ practice, why practice at all? (p. 203)

Once I started going to the power yoga studio two or three, then four or five times a week consistently, I knew the next phase of my practice journey would be to try to establish a home morning Ashtanga practice. A big hang-up there was that I hated how my body felt practicing in the morning–my muscles felt ice cold, for one. That first uttanasana (standing forward fold) was always awful. On the flip side, my mind wasn’t as cluttered as it would get in the evening after work, which meant I felt I had less mental chatter to try to quiet down–again, less motivation to practice in the morning. I sort of thought I should save practicing for when my body and my mind appreciated it more.

You may think to yourself that if you are going to sit in meditation, you must sit for forty-five minutes. If you are going to practice pranayama, you should practice it for one hour, and that if you are going to practice asana, two hours is the minimum. When, in fact, if you were to do any of these practices with true concentration even for two seconds, you would open up the core of the body and have remarkable insight and a sense of freedom–particularly a sense of release from the game you have constructed in your mind of what practicing is. Again, we run into the notion of drawing a circle (defining the parameters of our practice) and erasing that circle (having mercy on ourselves if we cannot meet the standards we set for ourselves). For beginning students, allowing some leeway in some of the parameters we set for ourselves about the structure and consistency of our practice can be the golden ticket to jump-start a routine of practice that, once it is going, automatically draws you back day after day, year after year. (p. 204)

As I’ve chronicled over the past few weeks, I finally, a few short months ago, started a six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice (not a moment too soon either, considering I took my first Ashtanga class around 1999 or 2000 and have loved it since). I was doing it for the discipline more than anything else. I’m experienced enough now (read: old! :-) ) to know that a guaranteed way to fail would be to say that if I couldn’t practice for at least 90 minutes, I wouldn’t start to practice. On most days, that means I practice for an hour. Once or twice a week, I get nearly two hours. Maybe once a week, I might get as little as 50 minutes. But as I’ve said in recent blog posts, I don’t beat myself up for it.

This has meant that since August, I have slowly but surely started to untether the act of practicing from the feeling of practicing. I no longer turn off my alarm after hitting snooze a couple of times and tell myself that despite my best intentions, I won’t be getting up to practice because how good could that practice feel if I’m this tired, if it’s this cold, and if I have such little time. I no longer step on my mat at 6:30 a.m. thinking, “Well, this won’t feel very good physically, which means it won’t feel as beneficial mentally or emotionally.” I just get on my mat and start.

It is what it is–and for that, I have started to realize that if there is any tethering, it should be to connect the act of practicing with the feeling of contentment and gratitude, no matter what kinds of sensations arise in the muscles, joints and everything else.

Getting back to what prompted Freeman to dive into this point, it’s an interesting exercise to think about what other games we have constructed in our mind of what ____ (fill in the blank: acceptable physique, ideal spouse, etc.) is–and how our practice might be able to free us from it.

(Photo credit: Tether ball by gzap 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.)

 

A different kind of black Friday: How yoga therapy can be used to help treat depression

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Enjoying the post-Thanksgiving food high, I’m with my family in San Jose. And I see that the Mercury News ran a story the other day saying that here in Santa Clara county, someone commits suicide on average every three days. Think about that — every 72 hours.

Black Friday officially kicks off the winter holiday season — a time of year designed to be full of family, friends and celebration. For those who live with clinical depression, though, it can be one of the toughest times to go through.

In high school, I worked on a teen hotline where, in theory, anyone contemplating suicide could call (gratefully, I was never on the other end of one of those calls). Depression has profoundly affected the life course of people I care deeply about. If there’s one societal change I have long wanted to contributed to, it is that, in my own way, one conversation at a time, I want people to understand that depression is not simply being sad. Or feeling really, really down. It is chemical. Deeply physiological. You don’t just buck up to get yourself out of depression. You don’t just will yourself out. Would you tell someone living with a heart condition to just get over it? True clinical depression should be considered with the same social regard as other serious threats to health.

Which brings me to yoga, and what yoga can do. The new issue of Yoga International has a wonderful piece by Gary Kraftsow:

Depression tends to hit us on every level of our being, often all at once, which makes yoga the perfect antidote for the physical ramifications, mood swings, thoughts, and behaviors that it engenders. From a physiological perspective, depression affects the entire body, including the digestive, respiratory, hormonal, and cardiovascular systems. Yoga therapy’s main impact on our physiology is via the sympathetic and parasympathetic functions of the ANS. Depression creates a state of sympathetic/parasympathetic disregulation, which further impacts how we feel, what we think about, and how we behave.

The sympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the fight-flight-or-freeze response and is activated when we perceive danger. The parasympathetic nervous system governs the functions involved in the rest-and-digest or rest-and-repose response and is activated when we are at rest.

Although some types of depression include sympathetic activation (feelings of agitation or anxiety), when people become depressed, they most often experience a state of sympathetic suppression. They may have physiological symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal distress, and/or decreased libido or sense of pleasure.

Practicing asanas with adapted breathing, pranayama techniques, and guided relaxation will help to balance the nervous system. For example, doing standing postures and backbends with an emphasis on movement—during which you progressively lengthen the inhalation and the exhalation and gently hold the breath at the end of the inhalation—will activate the sympathetic response and energize the system.

Even if you don’t know anyone right now with depression, I highly recommend reading the entire article to get a better sense of how yoga can work with depression. Kraftsow also offers a unique practice sequence. And because I’m a writer by trade, I will also say–better even than consuming online, buy the winter 2011-2012 issue of Yoga International and support this kind of quality yoga content (versus so much of the vacuous, fluffy and celebrity-driven stuff you can find these days).

(Photo credit: gogoloopie’s Flickr stream)

© 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.

Tapas before turkey. Tristana before tryptophan! And watch out for Rahu.

I’m pretty excited that Thanksgiving falls on a new moon day, which means it’s a day of rest. But let’s face it, even if it wasn’t a rest day, there are so many distractions and so many logistical inconveniences (like, traveling) that can make getting to the mat a challenge.

I think practicing the day before a holiday is critical. Tapas before turkey, I told my students today. Tristana before tryptophan! Hilaire Lockwood, the owner of Hilltop Yoga, will tell her students to get to the studio just before July Fourth or New Year’s Eve by simply saying, “Detox before you retox.”

Tim Miller of the Ashtanga Yoga Center of course offers an astrological perspective to the holiday in his most recent blog post. He talks about Rahu, the North Node of the Moon, known as the mighty and naughty child of Maya, Goddess of Illusion, who does his best to plunge any area of life he controls into chaos by taking us off our dharmic path and tempting us to veer off into self-destruction and insatiable desire to taste, achieve, and conquer.”

Tim continues:

When we sit down to Thanksgiving dinner, Rahu will be center stage, stimulating our desires for food and drink and possibly to dominate the conversation. Typically, Rahu teaches us through our excesses. After we eat or drink or talk too much we don’t feel so good. We realize that this is not the path to fulfillment, although, at the time, it may have been quite enjoyable. We find the edge by going over the edge. If you find that you get gobbled up by Rahu on Thanksgiving, don’t be too hard on yourself—there’s always yoga class on Friday.

I guess what all this means is that bookending your holidays with yoga might help you enjoy the celebrations a little more — either because you had enough self-control to find the edge without going over, or because you did go over the edge and need to climb back up to the ledge.

My youngest sister and my brother-in-law have already started cooking our family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I can’t wait to take that first bite. By this time tomorrow night, if I’m thinking, “Rahu: 1. Rose: 0” — well, I’ll be giving thanks for my next yoga practice. And if the win-loss is flipped, then I’ll have to give thanks for my last practice.

(Photo credit: “Thai demon god Rahu snacking on the moon” via kk+’s Flickr stream.)

© 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.

Indignation as the kindling for practice

I’m exhausted and would love to go to bed, even though it’s not even 9 p.m. It might have to do with how I woke up suddenly at 5:30 this morning and was unable to fall back asleep because my mind immediately went to something I’ve been indignant about for a couple weeks now (a decision someone else made that directly affects me). I got up and inadvisably looked at my gmail inbox, where I saw an email about the violence levied against non-violent student Occupy protesters at U.C. Davis, sent on behalf of University of California President Mark Yudof. That made me even more indignant.

Needless to say, I was pretty heated by the time I got to the mat. And you know what? it was a lovely practice. In recent posts I’ve complained about how I have a hard time feeling warm enough when I practice at home, especially in the mornings. Well, my indignation seemed to be the kindling I needed today. I burned away thought after thought I don’t want or need. If you study the yogic system, this was my agni in action, right? My sacred fire. Tim Miller says one application of bandhas — the energy locks rooted between the tailbone and the navel — is taking the waste (toxins, impurities) to the incinerator. I love that image.

But I didn’t burn it all away this morning (I am human). So I guess I’ll be back on the mat again tomorrow.

P.S. — My kindling this morning was all mental — emotional reactions to external events. But there’s also a physical aspect you can think about from this perspective. At a recent workshop in Chicago, Tim brought up asanas — our yoga postures — and the friction and resistance we meet when in them. “We should be thankful for our own resistance,” Tim said, “because it creates the fuel for our sacred fire.”

© 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 image on the back of the cereal box

I love Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal — something about the crunchiness and the simplicity (and it’s got antioxidants, so what’s not to love?). But the back of the cereal box drives me a little crazy. Just a little. Because the cereal box sits on top of my fridge, I see it nearly every time I’m in the kitchen. What drives me just a little crazy is that the woman pictured on the back is totally mailing in her virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) pose. Warrior 2, which can be viewed as reflecting a warrior drawing a sword, is such a beautifully strong pose. While this model looks like she’s enjoying it enough, I want her to engage her energy locks and dig into that pose to really feel the challenge and benefits of it.

I mean, you don’t need to be David Swenson, climbing up rock formations to express your inner warrior, but…well, as Tim Miller likes to tease in his yoga classes, how about trying again — with feeling this time.

Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. This is not something I would admit to a non-yogi crowd. :-)

© 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.


Only one day off a week? Is this negotiable?

As I type this post from a hotel room bed, I’m thinking about when I’ll get my practice in each day of this hectic week. And as I think about that, I find myself daydreaming about my ideal practicing conditions:

  • Room temperature around 84 or 85 degrees
  • A time slot of two hours to practice
  • Start time around 1 p.m.
  • A clean, bright studio with large windows — a skylight, even.
  • Hardwood floors

Laughable, right? I have these conditions on precisely zero days a week — and when I’m traveling for work, as I am now, or working particularly long days, or on vacation, it gets even trickier. Who lives in their ideal world, anyway?

But I am trying really hard to maintain the traditional Ashtanga lifestyle of upholding all my societal duties — aka, in Indian terms, staying a “householder” rather than withdrawing from society — while still getting on the mat six days a week. So what that ideal practice list turns into is the following.

Be content with less external heat.
My little room heater typically only climbs to 76 or 77 degrees in the morning — and the winter chills haven’t even hit Michigan yet. So I settle for less external heat and let my breathing practice (ujjayi breath) and my bandhas (energy locks) take me the rest of the way. I love the detoxifying feeling of the hot, sweaty practice you can get when practicing in a studio surrounded by the body heat of other yogis — but I find contentment in the heat I do build up in my home practice.

Be content with less time.
If I have an hour, I practice for an hour. I don’t beat up on myself for it. Weekends are generally the easiest time for me to fit in a longer practice, so I try to have at least one long practice (maybe an hour and 45 minutes) once a week and do what I can the other days.

Float my rest day.
The traditional rest day in the Ashtanga vinyasa system is Saturday. Since weekends are prime time for me to practice, I find the most packed day of my week and use that as my rest day. So tomorrow, I’ll be traveling back home and will likely be getting in around 8 p.m. I’ll use tomorrow as my rest day and practice on Saturday.

Float my moon days.
I try not to do this because I like the idea of trying to sync your energy with the lunar cycle, but sometimes, if it will really make a difference in my schedule, I take rest not on the moon day itself, but on the day before or after.

Suck it up and wake up earlier.
I love this Neil Gaiman quote I saw in a recent Confluence Countdown blog post:  “I am not a morning person in the exact same sense that I am not a fruit bat.” That’s ME. It really is. I am convinced I have circadian rhythm sleep disorder. I work best between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. (probably 95 percent of my body posts, including this one, was written during that timeframe). My body and my mind have a visceral aversion to mornings, etc. etc. But yes, yes, this practice teaches us discipline and yes, I just try to suck it up these days and wake up earlier.

On this point about waking up earlier, check out the AY:A2 blog post for tips on how to wake up for yoga. It contains excellent tips — and if you live in a cold climate like I do and have an aversion to that ice cold feeling in the morning, then the blog post advice is invaluable. Some of the most dedicated Ashtanga practitioners get up at 4 a.m. My goals right now are less intense — getting up around 6:30 a.m. or 6:45 a.m. Baby steps.

Be content with the space you have.
We rearranged the coffee table in our small apartment to clear a space in the middle of the living room so that I didn’t have to move furniture every time I practice. I roll out my mat and don’t even think about how I don’t like practicing on carpet or how I don’t like practicing with stuff (couch, guitars, etc.) around me. I just practice, focusing on how I’m grateful to be able to practice at all.

It is so much work to get to the mat six days a week, but in the short time I’ve been able to maintain it, the effects have been noticeable and worth the trouble.

So that’s what I do. How about you?

(Photo: My room heater.)  

© 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.

How do you spell community? #wcdet

My Martin Waymire Advocacy Communications friends and I today attended the second annual WordCamp Detroit, where I learned the following:

 

There was a lot of good information and a lot of campy fun. WordCamp Detroit is, according to its organizers:

…an event in which we can bring together the community to share and experience the power of WordPress. Organizing this event is just a small way for us to give back the community as a way to say thank you. WordPress has effected all of us in many ways and by leading this event we can connect local WordPress users and developers as well as introduce new people to the amazingness we all know as WordPress.

If you want to get a taste of this particular WordCamp, check out #wcdet, the Twitter hashtag used for the event, and see @redcrew‘s Storify. There were four other WordCamps held this weekend — in Caguas (“Para nerds, geeks y todos los demas”), Kenya (held, by the way, at a campsite), Denmark and Richmond. WordCamp Azerbaijan, also scheduled for this weekend, was postponed due to complications with the venue.

This blog is powered by WordPress.org, and if you’re looking for a great (I am biased) blogging platform/website content management system, I highly recommend WordPress — both the ready-with-a-few-clicks WordPress.com and the self-hosted WordPress.org. With WordPress, which is free (the price is right!), you get powerful flexibility. You can build beautiful websites or blog till your heart’s content — and if that wasn’t enough, you get a community ready to help.

Whether it’s Ashtanga yoga devotees, Radiohead devotees or WordPress devotees, there is always a sense of comfort for me to be surrounded by people with similar passions. That’s one of the benefits of community, right? People who understand — and can’t help but to share.

(Photo: The red WordPress tee that Dave Farinelli won during WordCamp Detroit’s WordPress Game Show and then gave to me (thanks again, Dave!), along with the cool, official WordCamp Detroit 2011 tee.)  

© 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.

 

Mystery meat: How my search for missing taste buds led me to a Chicago vegan diner

 

Last night at this time, I was in a diner in Chicago’s Boystown district, sitting across the table from my very talented, very funny and very fast (in that marathon/triathalon kind of way) friend Molly. We were having a blast catching up after not seeing each other for two years.

But there was one undeniably strange thing about the situation. It wasn’t the circumstances that brought the two of us back together. It was that we were voluntarily doing our celebratory catching-up dinner in a vegan joint.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain when it comes to my view on veganism. I respect other people’s choice about food. For myself, however, I draw the line at vegan dishes — if I can’t have milk or eggs, that’s a deal breaker, and I don’t even want to spend my hard-earned money in a place that caters to vegan taste buds.

I’ve always eaten meat, except for about three years in my mid-20s in which I pretty much cut out pork, poultry and beef from my diet. (I am very nearly a seafood addict, so I never even considered cutting that.) I had initially cut out pork because of one bad sweet and sour pork dish I ate — it tasted like I was eating a carcass, and I was not OK with that. A while later, I cut out poultry because I didn’t like what I had heard about the way chickens and turkey were raised. I cut beef out last, because I believed that red meat wasn’t healthy.

It shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out that this experiment was not working. I seemed to constantly feel tired. My hair would fall out in clumps every time I washed it.

When I finally started listening to my body, though, was when I started having random thoughts of cheeseburgers (like, while driving). If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. So perhaps for the first time in my life, I really listened to my body. I reintroduced meat — all of it — and I felt much better. On every level.

Now, at the not-so-tender age of 35, I’m facing another fork in my gastronomic journey. The last year or so, I’ve felt strongly that I wanted to eat better. It seemed to be less about what I ate — because I don’t eat much fast food, and I naturally crave things that are good for you, like greens, Brussels sprouts and squash — and more about how much I ate.

Then came the game changer — the six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice.

One day off

While I have long aspired to have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice, that resolution has gone the way of so many diets over the years — great intentions, but never actually starting.

Since returning from an Ashtanga yoga retreat at Mt. Shasta this past August, though, I’ve fought for, and so far maintained, a schedule that gives me only one rest day a week (in addition to the typical two moon days a month when you don’t practice). When I say “fought,” I mean it. It has been a battle to keep this schedule up — for six days of every week, I fight to carve out enough time to practice.

On the level of honoring traditions, I’m drawn to how this is the prescribed schedule for an Ashtanga practice. On a personal level, I’m drawn to what such a consistent practice does for my body and my mind.

But right now, I think that more than anything, I am fighting for this schedule because I want the discipline of it. I need to prove to myself that I have it in me to follow through. If six days had been something dictated by my employer, I would have done it already. I have always, on some important level, put my personal life after my professional life. I feel, first and foremost, that my responsibility is to my work — to doing a kick-ass job on whatever it is, and to meet all my deadlines. I’ve always asked my family, my friends — and, finally, myself — to understand during those times when work had to come first.

What I’m proving to myself with this six day a week practice is that I can do both — I can still rock out at work while not short-changing my personal life. Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor has reminded me that the Ashtanga practice is by design a householder’s pursuit. This practice wasn’t designed for people who could shirk off daily responsibilities.

Do you have chicken that tastes like something else?

So it’s early November now, and one thing that started happening maybe three weeks ago — so roughly eight weeks into this six-day-a-week practice — is that I have not been able to bring myself to eat chicken. I’ve been fine with beef — even had a craving the other week for my favorite burger place in Lansing. It’s just been chicken that I’ve wanted nothing to do with — something about the taste and the texture. If someone were to set a plate of Southwestern eggrolls — one of my guilty-pleasure appetizers — in front of me at this moment, I think I would look and then keep typing.

Is that a vegan menu?

This weekend, I headed to Chicago for Tim Miller’s workshops at the yogaview studio. My friend Molly very generously offered to let me crash at her place, so we had the chance to compare notes about how the past couple of years have gone. For our big dinner Saturday night, Molly ran down a long list of suggestions — awesome-sounding places that featured small plates and/or seafood. Fancy places, less fancy places, fun places. The one that sounded the best? Chicago Diner, a joint that specializes in vegan cuisine.

I had had a lovely, sweaty Timji-led Ashtanga primary series practice that morning, in a room full of more than 60 yogis all going to the flow of this practice. I left feeling amazing. I know that feeling carried me through the day, and I know that played a role in not feeling like eating anything heavy.

But vegan?

After seeing the full menu of choices including sweet potato quesadillas and a chicken firehouse wrap with “chicken” seitan, curiosity and an appreciate for creative flare and fare drew me to the place. It reminded me of Chu Chai, one of my favorite places in Montreal — a vegetarian Thai place that offers delicious faux-meat dishes.

The Chicago Diner did not disappoint. The food was fantastic. Molly and I started out with some sweet potato fries topped with “cheeze” and I had a Soul Bowl with quinoa (love that stuff!), spicy grilled tofu with chimichurri sauce, black beans, flashed greens and mashed sweet potatoes. We ended with — get this — vegan chocolate chip cookie dough shakes.

Did the dining experience make me want to go vegan or even vegetarian? Absolutely not. It did make me want to return to Chicago Diner, and it did make me reflect some more about the power of practicing six days a week. If this is already what I’m experience 11 weeks in, it’s going to be interesting.

As for chicken — will I start wanting to eat it again? We’ll see. I kind of like having this be my mystery meat for the time being.

How about you? Do you practice six days a week? What, if anything, changed for you?

(Photo credit: (Top) Wallace and Gromit‘s Feathers McGraw, as imagined on a T-shirt (Bottom) Chicago Diner’s website )  

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

The sixth time’s still the charm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

YogaRose.net Explainer: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I’m just getting started in yoga?

Especially because I teach an introductory Ashtanga yoga class and an introductory vinyasa-flow class, I am constantly thinking about how to make this practice accessible. How do you explain ujjayi breathing? Energy locks? The fine-tuning of proprioceptive awareness?

Sometimes, though, what students need to know is much simpler than that. For instance: Should I buy my own yoga mat if I am just getting started in yoga and don’t know how frequently I will get to classes?

I’m tempted to answer, “Absolutely, yes!” and then end this blog post. I usually like getting into nuances and gray areas, but in this case, it’s a pretty clear-cut answer to me. Buy your own yoga mat rather than use the free or rented ones provided by your studio or gym, OK?

But I guess I should say a little more before I put this topic to bed. Here are three reasons to buy your own mat, even if you are only starting to check out yoga classes and aren’t sure you’ll be all that serious about it:

You get to keep it personal
A yoga mat takes a lot of abuse and it is — if not by design then at least by function — deeply personal. Yoga mats take skids (when yogis don’t quite achieve lift-off during those jump-throughs), sweat (self explanatory) and tears (yoga can make us emotional, and tears happen). Practicing on your own mat is just more personal, no matter how many times you make it to the mat.

It’s more hygenic, period.
Even if a studio tries (emphasis on “tries”) to clean their mats well between students, you’re opening yourself up to less-than-hygenic practicing conditions. When you release your forehead into the mat for child’s pose, it’s nice to be able to fully melt into the mat and not worry about cleanliness. And if it’s flu season? Eek. (I was working at a hospital during the 2009 spread of the H1N1 flu, and it changed the way I see hygenic — or lack thereof — practices around me.)

You don’t have to invest a lot of money to get a starter mat
What I tell students who are starting yoga but only practice once or twice a week at the most is to check out their local T.J. Maxx, Marshalls or other similar discount shops. A couple weeks ago when I was at T.J. Maxx, I saw yoga mats for $9.99. Will they be the best mats, quality-wise? No — but neither will the ones you rent or borrow from a yoga studio or gym’s stash. Trust me, that starter mat you pick up will last you long enough to justify the $10 you spent.

If you have flexibility in your budget, then you have what can seem like a dizzying array of choices, including David Swenson’s Gecko mat, the Manduka line, Jade mats, the Saka premium black mat, products from Gaiam and so many more. Mats in this range of quality can cost up to $104. Figure out what’s important to you. Is it whether the mat is produced in an eco-friendly way? Is it how thick and supportive it is (some yogis I know have complained of too much support, for example)? Is it how the material feels? If you’re practicing around yogis with some mats that seem intriguing to you, ask them what drew them to that mat, and if you could feel the material. Step on it, try a down dog, try floating through. It’s a quick way of test driving some of the options without having to pull out your credit card. I’ve found that, much like smartphones, people love talking about their yoga mat and all the reasons they decided on that particular model.

I use a Mysore rug over a regular yoga mat. A high percentage of my yogi friends use thin towel-like options, such as the Yogitoes brand. More on that in another post — I’ve got work to do! In the meantime, happy mat-hunting, if you’re ready to take the plunge.

(Photo credit: Yoga Time by mosabuam 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.

To the (full) moon!

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

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

Why? Tim Miller explains this on his website:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fallen arches, salsa dancing and yoga standing postures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Reimagining…everything

Via jmak.tumblr.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only