Do your summer travel plans include a yoga workshop?

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

Urdvha dhanurasana

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

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

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

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

Happy traveling!

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

Get your ‘shanti’ on this Memorial Day

Ashtanga closing prayer -- Sanskrit
Ashtanga closing prayer -- English

This is the Sanskrit closing prayer, along with the English translation, that ends a traditional Ashtanga yoga practice. When I practiced today here in Lansing, I dedicated my practice, and especially this closing, to the reason why we celebrate Memorial Day — the men and women (and I also think of the service animals) who sacrificed their lives to protect our peace.

I just returned this morning from spending the Memorial Day weekend in Washington, D.C. The annual National Memorial Day Concert took place just three miles from my hotel, and it’s hard to be in that town and not have an intensified response to the weight of the two wars being fought by armed forces such as those featured in this 60 Minutes” piece by Lara Logan that aired yesterday.  (I can’t mention Lara Logan without at least mentioning her incredible heroism as a journalist and a woman.)

The beauty of yoga is that by balancing out our body, mind and spirit, we are contributing to the greater good and we are in a better position to do even more. Think of the Thich Nhat Hanh quote about the “most basic kind of peace work“:

If in our daily life we can smile, 
if we can be peaceful and happy, 
not only we, but everyone 
will profit from it. This  
is the most basic kind 
of peace work.

But if you want to do something that feels more immediate and concrete today, Mashable offers four ways to support troops — including contributing to Dog Bless You, a cause that aims to donate dogs to servicemen and servicewomen who return from battle with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Make this holiday something more than a day to bask in the kick of summer, or a day to practice yoga on a more relaxed schedule — make this day bigger than you and your reality.

Shanti (peace).

(Credits: Sanskrit and English versions of the closing prayer: Shri K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute 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. 

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

Tittibhasana B

I hate this posture.

Let me rephrase. I loathe this posture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eka pada sirsasana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

YogaRose.net Bookshop and Boutique now open

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

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

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

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

Be the yoga teacher and adjust my warrior pose!

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

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

And yet my warrior posture still looks like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mirror, mirror…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What my salsa teacher wants my hips to do

Featured

Salsa dress

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

But this is salsa, and it looks fantastic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not living life through the rearview mirror

An abandoned baseball

Armando Galarraga was traded today from the Detroit Tigers to the Arizona Diamondbacks. If you’re a baseball fan, I don’t need to include a boilerplate. But the journalist in me will provide one anyway: On June 2, 2010, Galarraga would have become the 21st pitcher in history to pitch a perfect game had it not been for an umpire’s lousy — and it was truly lousy — call.

I wrote a blog post about it at the time. I was angry. I still am — though more than anything else, my disgust is more directed toward Bud Selig refusing to overturn the call.

In a USA Today story, Galarraga is quoted as saying:

Everybody knows what happened. Sometimes, I want to be myself. I want it to be over. Nobody’s perfect. Let’s turn the page.

Even as he’s being traded, Galarraga is showing his yogic sensibilities.

Moving on — that’s a hard thing, and something that consistent yoga practice can help us achieve. It’s hard to forge ahead when you can’t take your eyes off the rearview mirror. Whether it’s a memory, a past relationship, or a regret, I’ve found that trying to brute force that process of letting go rarely ever works. And I know I’m not alone. Most of us have a tape that plays in our head — a tape that we wish we could turn off, or at the very least quiet down.

So how does coming to the mat day after day help us let go? In yoga, we use the body to get beyond the body, as I often say. During a yoga practice, we are seeking to open and expand — on the level of the body, the mind and the spirit. Linking breath to movement through yoga postures can, when the frequency is right, make us emotionally accessible enough to let something fall away. Or, if that thought or memory or feeling is lodged in pretty deep, the difficult work of a yoga practice can at least loosen that something.

B.K.S. Iyenger writes in his gorgeous book Light on Life:

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, chose to make the workings of mind and consciousness, both in success and in failure, the central theme of yoga philosophy and practice. In fact, from the yogi’s point of view, practice and philosophy are inseparable. Patanjali’s first sutra says, ‘Now I’m going to present the disciplined code of ethical conduct, which is yoga.’ In other words, yoga is something you do. So what do you do? The second sutra tells us, ‘Yoga is the process of stilling the movements and fluctuations of the mind that disturb our consciousness.’ Everything we do in yoga is concerned with achieving this incredibly difficult task (p. 108).

“Incredibly difficult” — talk about an understatement. But that’s what it takes to start the long journey of separating from a memory or a script that we’ve written for ourselves.

Galarraga’s right once again to say that it’s time to move on and keep the focus on the road ahead, not the one left behind in the dust.

Good luck in Arizona, Armando. Thanks for being such a good sport.

(Photo credit: Marcus McCurdy)

What yogis can learn from the NFL

Geen Bay Packer fanIs it just me, or has there been hours and hours of football — college and pro — pretty much daily since Christmas? I don’t even live in an apartment inhabited by hardcore football fans, and still, somehow, football seems to always be on the TV.

From baseball to music concerts, I always manage to see analogies to yoga and symbolism fit for the yogic lifestyle. So, as the Packers and the Bears battle it out this afternoon, I’m wondering what parallels I can draw between the helmet-crunching world of football to the spine-lenghtening world of yoga.

I’ve thought all afternoon about this (OK, that is also hyperbole), and now that I’ve gotten out of the shower and am getting ready to go back to the yoga studio and teach my second class today, I’ve come to my conclusion.

What can yogis learn from the National Football League?

Not a damn thing.

To all you football fans out there, I’m happy that you’re happy (if you’re happy based on how your team’s done, that is). Enjoy the Super Bowl, and I’ll talk to you in February.

(Photo credit: GreenBayPackerNation.com)

Music for the people — via their yoga mats

Gaiam audio yoga mat

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

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

What?

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

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

From Gaiam.com:

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

What do you think?

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: Bestbuy.com)

More from YogaRose.net:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It’s a calendar. A datebook. A fundraiser. And it’s a…flip book?!

I recently wrote a post about a fundraising calendar put out by some artistic and generous yogis at the Carlsbad, Calif.-based Ashtanga Yoga Center. My calendar has arrived in the mail, and to my surprise, it’s much more than a calendar. (Drumroll, please…)

That’s right. This calendar is, as promised, a calendar. It’s a datebook. It’s a photo album. And it’s also — a flip book! Not  just any flip book. For Tim Miller fans out there, it’s a Tim Miller flip book. Check out the video above to see Tim doing some cool arm balances.

What’s not to love? For less than $20, you’d be getting a beautiful keepsake calendar that doubles as a fun little flip book. More than anything, you’d get the satisfaction knowing that you’re contributing to an effort to help one yogi pay down his mounting medical bills.

‘Rarely do we clench just one thing.’

 

X-ray of a mouth

Clenched teeth, clenched mind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo credit: The Full Wiki)

A 2011 yoga calendar that reminds us what this path is truly about

 

AYC fundraising yoga calendar

2011 Ashtanga Yoga Center calendar

 

I had the good fortune to study with study with Tim Miller at the Ashtanga Yoga Center (AYC), his studio in southern California, this summer. One of the very cool people I met during my two weeks in Encinitas, Calif., was long-time AYC teacher Rich McGowan. Rich would often provide the drumbeat — heartbeat is how I think back on it — to our satsang sessions.

Rich attended most of the teacher training sessions during the first week, offering guidance, answering questions and bringing even more lightness into the room through his humor. (On a personal note, he helped me tremendously with my marichyasana D.)

Our teacher training group was sad to learn that, by the second week, Rich’s health had taken a turn for the worse. He was unable to complete the second week of teacher training.

Rich continues to face serious health challenges, and the wonderfully tight-knit and compassionate AYC community has pulled together for a couple different fundraisers. Even if you’ve never met Rich — even if you don’t practice yoga — you can contribute to his medical expenses while receiving a gorgeous 2011 calendar.

You can view some of the photos that are part of the calendar at sriBhagavati’s photostream.

All proceeds of this $18 calendar go directly to Rich (if, like me, you don’t live near AYC, you’ll pay just a couple dollars more and it’ll be shipped to you). The calendar is the work of Lorna Moy-Masaki (graphic art) and Michelle Haymoz (design concept and photography). Michelle took this photo of me with Tim Miller that I will always cherish.

Why do we practice yoga? Is it solely for ourselves?

We become devoted to the practice not just because of what it does for us as individuals, but for the orbit we get pulled into — an orbit full of  interesting, generous, compassionate and talented people without whom life just wouldn’t be the same. You can call it a sangha, a community, a family, or whichever term speaks most to you. I look at this calendar and each page is a beautiful reminder of beauty itself.

>>UPDATE: Read this post where I show you how the calendar doubles as a yoga flip book as well!

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

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

Madonna--in a bit of a bind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jois Yoga

Joisyoga.comOK Ashtangis — in case you missed it, there’s a new website for Jois Yoga. The website explains: “Based on the teachings of Sri K Pattahbi Jois, founder of Ashtanga Yoga, JOIS is a living legacy featuring a collection of Yoga Shalas and Apparel Worldwide.”

In an earlier post, I mentioned news of this month’s grand opening of the Jois Yoga Shala in Encinitas, Calif. Now we know more about the founder of the shala, and about future plans — which include additional shalas opening up worldwide, along with an apparel line.  

I don’t know — it’s hard for me to picture an official Jois-family-approved line of clothing, along with what will essentially be a chain of shalas around the world. On the other hand, it’s too easy to question whether this is a positive development for the global sangha of Ashtanga practitioners, and I don’t want to set up false dichotomies of good-versus-bad, traditional-versus-modern, homegrown-versus-commercialized. If nothing else, yoga teaches us to be less reactive in our daily lives — to not jump to conclusions or let preconceived notions lead the way.

And without a doubt, new shalas and a new line of dedicated clothing will only increase Ashtanga’s profile, attracting more people to try this practice for the first time and deepening others into their current practice through having greater worldwide accessibility to teachers steeped in the Ashtanga tradition.  

But for me, it is surprising, to say the least, to see these developments and learn about what’s in the works. I’d love to hear what practitioners think about these announcements and plans.

Gratitude

I should be sleeping right now, given that I have to be up by 5 a.m. to make the 6 a.m. pranayama circle with Tim Miller and his students. But I’m full of so much good energy that I can’t settle down to sleep just yet.

Tomorrow we head into the last five days of this Ashtanga teacher training program — and I am already sad to think about it coming to an end. The past week has been tremendous. Tim, who has been practicing Ashtanga for more than 32 years, brings a real-deal brand of wisdom — a wisdom born of experience — along with an encyclopedic breadth of knowledge, absolute devotion to the Ashtanga yoga system, and a deep well of compassion for his students. It is inspiring to just be in the same room with him. To be taking his teacher training — all I can think about is the concept of gratitude.

Gratitude for all my yoga teachers whose guidance have ultimately led me to this point. Gratitude for Tim Miller. Gratitude for my friends and family members who have always encouraged me to keep moving forward on this yogic path. Even gratitude for all the stressful jobs I’ve had over the years — jobs that drained me so much that I had to go in search of some sort of antidote, some sort of a release from it.

Last week during an afternoon discussion, Tim said that gratitude primes the pump for grace. I love that concept but haven’t had time yet to think more about it. Maybe I’ll address the concept of grace in another blog post.

On a related note, if I were back home in Michigan, I would have taught my 7 p.m. Ashtanga class tonight. I realized around 6:30 that I really missed my students, and I wanted to be there to see their smiles and hear their laughter and see where they’ve improved and what might be challenging them most this week. So there’s also gratitude for students, who give me even more reason to seek out the great yogic masters of our time and learn from them.

It seems that everywhere I turn, I see something else to express gratitude for — and of course, I’m grateful for that!

So, where do you think the experience of gratitude leads us?

I'm always grateful when I make it into adho mukha vrksasana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does really matter?

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

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

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

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

Looking for something that isn’t here

So here I am, writing my first post for this new blog. I think it’s rather fitting for the theme of this website that the default WordPress post I wrote over said:

Not Found.

Sorry, but you are looking for something that isn’t here.

I’ve spent a lot of time, especially lately, thinking about what I have and haven’t found through my yoga practice. (I’ve put some of those thoughts into the about me section.) I’m not sure the list of what I have found through my yoga practice ends — like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps going and going.

When you first come to the mat, you are so cognizant of how much self-healing there is to do, and how much potential yoga has to help you in that healing process. The longer you practice, the more cognizant you are that you want to share this others. You start sharing first by just being a more balanced person, perhaps someone who is less reactive to challenging people or situations. Then you start to wonder if the way to share your passion is to teach yoga, so that others can find their own way.

Then, if you are me, you wonder if you should start a blog to share resources. I’m always trying to connect resources to the right people — an e-mail here, a verbal fyi there (for example, ashtangis, did you know that Tim Miller – who I describe as being a Jedi master in yoga garb — will be in Chicago this weekend at YogaView? Last I checked, there is still room).

Through this site, all I really want to do is share (probably mostly about Ashtanga, simply because that is my true love when it comes to yoga, and what I’m focused on right now). It might be logistical, like a reminder to Hilltop Yoga students about when the studio will be closed (the evenings of Father’s Day and July Fourth are the next two evening closures this summer). It might be a recommendation (I’m currently enjoying Gregor Maehle’s new book in the intermediate series). Or it might be questions, thoughts or a story. And it would be very cool if the sharing goes both ways — let me know about your latest insight or recommendation.

urdvha