Monday, December 23, 2013

Sutra I.33

Sutra I.33
Through the cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.

The day before Christmas and all through the house,  the vizslas are napping and Angie is weepy.......

This time of year seems to always make me cry.  I cry for many reasons,  watching someone give the Salvation Army guy a $20 at King Soopers.  I cry at silly movies that are so unrealistic. I cry when I wrap a gift because I can actually afford to buy a couple of them now. I cry because I think of where I was 5 years ago and cannot believe how far I have come. I cry because I miss my family to pieces, the ones living and the ones not of the physical anymore. I cry at the generosity of people because these people still exist!

I know what you are thinking.  What about the focus only on Christmas?  What about other people who don't celebrate Christmas? What about the over buying, living out of our means, retail gone crazy mode?  What about the natural disasters? What about people killing each other with guns? What about the poverty in other countries?  Angie, have you gone mad?

No, I have not, I am just choosing to watch the good that happens instead of the bad.  Our yoga practice should be moving us all in this direction. It does not mean that we ignore those in need,  those who are ill,  those who are sad.  We just need to find a balanced approach to it all. 

Having a daily yoga practice is the key for me. I am not saying you should do just because I do. Find something that helps you to focus, to still the mind. Maybe it is creating art,  hiking with your dogs, cooking for your family, sewing, singing, sitting still, reading a romance novel, watching golf....
.  Whatever it is, find a little time where you can be free of distractions, find a little stillness. Most of all think before you act and speak. You never know who might be listening. You may inspire someone else to do something good too. 

Why did I pick this sutra for today?  I will quote right from Guruji himself,

"These qualities keep the mind in a state of well-being. Patanjali here lays the groundwork for our journey towards Self-Realization.  ........This sutra asks us to rejoice with Happy, to be compassionate to the sorrowful, friendly to the virtuous, and indifferent to those who continue to live in vice, despite attempts to change them.  This mental adjustment builds social as well as individual health......This approach to life keeps the mind of the sadhaka serene and pure."
-BKS Iyengar LIght on the Yoga Sutras-

Friday, December 20, 2013

Selfless Service & Wisdom in action

I have been keeping up with a blog written by Lisa Walford who spent the last 6 weeks in Pune studying with the Iyengar family.  Her posts were inspiring, her words are thoughtful, I felt as though I had nothing to write after reading about the classes happening at the Institute right now. 

I also realize that I have been sorely using my excuse of not being in India as the source for my lack of inspiration or inner fire, tapas.  Excuse after Excuse I have been finding. Not having Prashant to push these thoughts into my head, to really make me think about why I do and teach yoga anyways.

 I think of all the people right now in my life I can use for the inspiration.  Students who week after week come to class, my teachers who teach even when they feel a bit down.  The ladies in my women’s group who pay dues to this educational non-profit, come to meetings, do many different fund raising events year after year with very little $ to work with.  They never complain, they always smile, laugh and support each other through the good and the bad.  The IMIYA board members who every month meet and discuss how we can spread the teachings of Iyengar yoga purely out of their love of the subject and the Iyengar family.

One thing I have learned the last few months, is this path of yoga can be a lonely one.  You are truly on the path to self-realization, not a path to popularity and masses of wealth.  It is so funny, I think of all the times where I only had 1 person in a class or no people in a class. Wondering why I still do this?  I do it because this yoga has changed my life.  It has the potential to change anyone’s life who chooses the path. I also find that when you teach from the heart, teach from the place of being humble, students come, they multiply even (not in the Gremlin sense…).  Even the ones who challenge you, ask hard questions, have physical issues, those are the ones we learn the most from.

This brings me to the wisdom in action part.  Even if I don’t have the teachings of the Institute at my fingertips, I have to make myself study.  It is not easy to sit down at 7 am and read the Gita.  I do however realize if I am to continue teaching and learning, this is a part of the process. Not just the physical asana part.  Yes, that part in important, but the real reason I do yoga is to become more open. Open to new possibilities, open to new people, new ideas. All this studying and practice I do to build a strong foundation of purpose and meaning in my life.

From the reading have I done this week in the Gita, Chapter 4. Arjuna is wanting a quick fix, to get out of his current situation fast. Krishna is teaching him ancient mystical secrets and Arujuna just does not understand that it is not just the physical action that can lead him on the path to fixing his issue, but a path of Spiritual Knowledge. Of knowing the Self, of being Selfless, giving of ones self with no attachments.  At the end of this chapter, Krishna leaves Arjuna with this last piece of wisdom,

“Those established in the Self have renounced selfish attachments to their actions and cut through doubts with spiritual wisdom. They act in freedom. Arjuna, cut through this doubt in your own heart with the sword of spiritual wisdom. Arise; take up the path of yoga!”

Closing thoughts: My mind feels so bouncy these days. Not quite as focused as I would like. These busy times during the holidays can often times cause me (and everyone else for that matter) distress or depression, or the opposite, giddy and hyper. Even if you do not get caught up in all the craziness in the holidays, you are around people who do. Can we learn to find a balance between all of this?  Not get caught up in the buying aspect, but in the giving aspect? 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

First reading of the Bhagavad Gita-Where have I been?

A few months back a friend gave me a yoga shirt from another country. On the back was a quote from the Bhagavad Gita.  My boss and I went online to find out which one it was, from there this obsession with this text has blossomed.  I had never really thought too much about reading it, I always kind of felt it was going to be too long, to hard to understand.   Upon opening Eknath Easwaran's translation I quickly realized that there was nothing to stress over. The translation is so clear, even I, a novice in all this Philosophy, can get it.

I just am moving on from chapter two, the one where we learn about Self-Relization, rebirth, and the meaning of yoga, as it is referred to in the Gita. Eknath says, "It refers primarily to disciplining the mind. Yoga is evenness of mind: detachment from the dualities of pain and pleasure, success and failure.  Therefore Yoga is skill in action, because this kind of detachment is required if one is to act in freedom rather than merely react to events compelled by conditioning." Krishna goes onto tell Arjuna in this chapter, "....if he can establish himself in yoga-in unshakeable equanimity, profound peace of mind, he will be more effective in the realm of action. His judgement will be better and his vision clear if he is not emotionally entangled in the outcome of what he does."  I love the way that Krishna answers Arjuna is a simple terms.  He does complicate things as most of us tend to do.

As a Yoga Asana Teacher I truly believe that the action part of yoga is really important, but as I grow a little older, a little wiser I see that the sitting and being still part of yoga is just as important if not more. When do most of us say, "enough is enough! I am sitting down today and resting, not working, not socializing, not on any kind of social or non-social media."  In this world of Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and over buying on the Holidays we could use a little detachment from all this material and retail therapy. It makes me sad that our culture has come to this place of extremes. One minute it is "Happy Holidays and May Peace be with you." and the next is "Get out of my way, that's my Furby!"  I really think if these big retail locations would play some sweet Classical Music and offer a quick breathing session before they open the doors, consumers would have a much safer experience....

There is a part of me that says I should not be trying to fix our shopping problem in this country to the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.  It seems to me that this is where we should be looking.  It seems more people than ever are looking for something to inspire them to make them feel something, feel anything. Why not use ancient texts to help us? They have been around for thousands of years and have taught even more people to feel balanced, calmer, and even more satisfied without accumulating more stuff.

I will end with this from the Bhagavad Gita, translated by Ekanth Easwaran:
"You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in the world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself-without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat. Yoga is the perfect evenness of mind.
See refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause for worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the discipline of yoga, for yoga is skill in action."


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Setubandha-a supported backbend

This morning I took Gary's class at IYCD. It was most definitely an All Levels class. From the most beginner to the most seasoned, from 23 years of age to over 75 years young. He handeled the class with grace and ease.

The practice started with simple poses like tadasana, urdvha hastasana, trikonasana. We worked our way to dog, to some abdominal poses and finally to sarvangasana. He looks around the room and realized that not everyone should to it. Gary brought us all around to watch setubandha with the bolster like I have posted below. This is a good alternative for people who may have shoulder, neck, or more rounded shoulders. He stated so simply that doing this pose for 5 minutes a day could radically change your upper back flexibility in a year! So go do it:)
(Thanks Gary for a great class!)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Satya: Truth, Sincerity, genuineness, honesty

Satya is described in Light on the Yoga Sutras as Truth, Sincerity, Genuineness, Honesty.  Sutra II.36 says, "When the sadhaka is firmly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realization." I was struck by the last part of the description, " It is not our mind, but the inner voice of our cells which has the power to implement our intentions."

Being truthful and honest has been on my mind lately.  Not only in the literal way, but in how we approach asana.  Last night I was teaching forward bends working up to Paschimottanasana.  It seems like a fairly straightforward pose, but if you have been practicing Iyengar Yoga you know that nothing is as straightforward as it seems.  There are always many layers in preparation to any asana. In any class I teach, I try to go in with a beginners mind.  Remember what it felt like to be doing the pose for the first time.  This is not a hard feat with Pachimottanasana.  It always feels so awkward at first, the gripping of my groins, the tightness of my back, and the creeping sensation of the old hamstring injuries I still fear to this day.  Even in my demo, I stressed the importance of being honest with yourself and where you are at. I showed that at a certain point the spine does not want to cooperate, you have to coax the length by using the hands on the feet, by pulling and encouraging  the spine to go in and forward.   The moral: it's all in the preparation.

Urdvha Hastasana is one of the key poses in preparing for Pschimottansana. The way you use the arms to lift up and out of the pelvis is a perfect way to get the spine going in the right direction. Even in Craig's class Monday night he was teaching some of those same themes.  He mentioned that in Geeta's new Intermediate gudelines she teaches many ways of using Urdvha Hastasana to lengthen the ribs, make space in the spine,  and in general create strength and suppleness in the whole torso when preparing for seated poses like twists and forward extensions.

If you want to get some inspiration on doing Urdvha Hastasana here is a video of John Schumacher teaching it.  Listen to the instructions on the shoulders, they will relate to when you are in any forward bend too!

I will leave you with one last quote from Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar
"You have to be completely absorbed, with devotion, dedication, and attention, while performing the pose. There should be honesty in approach and honesty in presentation. When performing a pose, you have to find out whether you body has accepted the challenge of the mind, or whether the mind has accepted the challenge of the body."

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Themes on Urdhva Hastasana

Is there such a thing as Bloggers Block?  It seems that I have had a touch of that in the last month.  Blogging has shrunk down to once every other week.  This morning I had been searching for inspiration in a novel, in the Gita, and even looking back on old journal entries.  I just am not feeling the same excitement that I did in India. Everywhere I looked I found inspiration.  Now, how do I bring that same curiosity and excitement to my everyday......

Ta-Da....Urdhva Hastasana!  Mid-October I started teaching a basics class and I was nervous.  In the past I have not been the best Basics teacher. Students in most of the Basics classes I have taught look bored to tears.

In the first class you are to teach Urdhva Hastasana with the palms forward and facing each other. I ended up teaching it for 15 minutes. After class I thought to myself,  "Wow,  I am really maturing as an Iyengar teacher if I can teach that pose and no one goes to the bathroom during the middle of my demo!"  This pose seems like a very simple one, but that is only to the untrained eye.

My first real introduction to the nuts and bolts of this pose were with Nancy Stechert from Hotchkiss, CO in 2005. I was relatively new to Denver and I was already taking classes at IYCD.  That spring, Nancy was in town to teach a workshop.  I was a little nervous as I did not know many people, but I went anyways.  It was the Friday night session and I swear to you that we held our arms out to the sides and over our heads for at least 30 minutes. I was not sure if I was going to make it. I was sweating,  my arms were burning, but I also had no shoulder or neck pain doing Urdhva Hastasana or the other arm work.  I think I may have also questioned her sanity too.  Couldn't she see I was struggling?  Why was everyone else looking so serene and strong in the pose?  I knew she was the most Senior Teacher in Colorado, so I went with it, trusted her knowledge and I am so happy I did.

While studying for my first assessment in 2009, (which did not go as planned.......but it all worked out in the end!) I was demoing for Lisa Beckwith Wolf in her Monday night Level 1 class.  My job was to stand up front, do the poses to the best of my ability, and try to copy the serene faces I saw back in Nancy's workshop so the class would have a point of reference while Lisa taught and observed. I remember well one of the times that we were doing Urdhva Hastasana and Lisa came over to adjust my arms.  She grabbed my triceps, rolled them in and lifted.  It felt like freedom in my neck and back. 

2 years later in 2011, I was re-taking my Intro 1 exam in Houston, TX.  Robert and I went a day early to get checked into the hotel, relax a little and also go take a class so I could feel out the studio.  It was Thursday night and Constance Braden was the teacher.  Constance welcomed us with open arms to her studio and community.  There were a couple other assessees in class, Robert, myself, and regulars as well. She taught a well-rounded class that of course included the asana in mention,  Urdhva Hastasana!  The way she taught it made me want to do it again and again.  She was encouraging, her instructions clear, and her voice was kind.  At one point she spoke on how everyone should want to do this pose because isn't this the way people look when they win the lottery or are excited about something??  She said you never see someone sad doing this pose!  Throughout the weekend of assessment I would look at her and raise my arms as if to say, "Thank-you Constance for making me love this pose and helping me through this stressful test!"

So why all this talk about Urdhva Hastasana anyways? Well, try the pose yourself.  Raise your arms over your head a few times while taking slow, steady breaths.  Do you become more awake? Does your mind fog begin to lift?  This asana is in itself a gateway to many other poses like Virabhadrasana I, Adho Mukha Svanasana, and Adho Mukha Vkrsasana.  In the Preliminary Guidelines by Geeta, she says that you, "Learn to open the sides of the rib cage.....and Learn the stretching of the arms against the steadiness and firmness of the legs...."  Not only will you feel yourself getting taller and more lifted through the midsection, but your arms will become stronger and you will gain endurance for far more difficult poses.

I guess I don't really have to be in India to feel that same inspiration. Block is gone, inspired once more by the most simplest of yoga asanas.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Too busy for practice....NEVER!

In the latest edition of the Yoga Rahasya, there is an article titled, "Teaching to 'strengthen the nerves' of the students" written by Guruji.  The entire article is only a couple pages, but it spoke directly to me as a teacher.  Here is the first paragraph:
"The seat of reverence is the heart.  It will bloom only when the students stick to yoga. Though it depends upon the teachers to ignite and keep the flame of yoga burning, it depends on the students too.  The teachers must be models with their regular practices and work in each asana for qualitative presentation. At the same time they should know about sequencing asana-s for congenial feelings as well as the ways of doing them to experience different sensations and feeling."

As of lately, or since I returned from India, I have been going, going, going, going.  Not a whole lot of balance in my daily life and working life.  When I first returned I was determined to find a balance, not to work too much, to practice more, to read and rest more. Of course that has slowly dwindled to an hour of practice a day and a little reading at night before I conk out.  I could look at it in a negative way, complain of how tired I am, talk of how busy I am,  or even just be pissed that it is not going exactly as planned. 

Today I realized that I am doing all of this "work" because I love this work.  I love teaching, I love managing the studio, and I love being on the IMIYA board.  These are the things that I get to do for work, how lucky am I?  In my former chef life, I was on my feet 8-10 hours a day and I loved that too. Looking back on all the professions I have had I am pretty lucky to have mostly done things I love. Not everyone can say they get to make money doing something they love, I get to be one of those people and I am very grateful for it.

In the Rahasya,  Guruji talks about strengthening the nerves of the students, but I think that teaching also strengthens the nerves of the teacher. I have to practice daily and  keep up with my studies so that I am constantly learning new things to teach them.  If I do not continue learning, what will I have left to offer?  Everyday when I think to myself I am too busy or too tired to practice, I remember all the students that come to class even when they too are tired or are having difficulties in their own lives.  That is what gives me the inspiration to keep going.  To keep assessing. This is what helps to "keep the flame of yoga burning" in my life.

Gratitude to the Iyengar Family and all students for helping me stay inspired and energized so I can share my abundant love of this yoga!!

Friday, October 4, 2013

India came to me this time.

This past weekend, IYCD played host to Swati Chanchani. Swati is from Northern India and has been studying directly with the Iyengar Family for more than 30 years.  She began the weekend workshop on Friday night with calling all of us around in a semi-circle to do the invocation.  What a beautiful way to start.  We typically sit in very straight rows, all on our own little islands of sticky mats.  To begin this way brings an immediate feeling of community to the group.  The way the Indians chant is so natural.  Just in the tone you can feel and hear their devotion to god, to the guru, and to the group they are about to teach.

Friday night was standing poses using chairs for the hands, not going too deep.  We used rolled sticky mats and blankets under our front foot to demonstrate the sensation of moving the top of the thigh back and noticing how that creates a freedom in the buttocks. She mentioned more than once that yoga is about devotion not acrobatics,  it is about discipline and learning to change the way you have always done things, it is NOT about struggle.  She asked a few times to the group, "Why must you struggle?"  I have been asking myself this same question all week.

Saturday was incredible. Swati has a special gift to know when we have had enough or are not getting it.  When we were all in Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, she saw that our chairs were not big enough and said come out let's do this another way.  She led us into a supported backbend with bolsters and blankets instead.  While in this backbend, that felt very luxurious to me, I noticed so many sensations not only in my back, my chest, but more especially my mind.  I felt clearer, energized but not in an urgent sort of way.  I think spending so much time in the pose gives you an opportunity to do that "micro surgery" that the Iyengar family is always talking about.

Swati went on adjusting people, teaching us more subtle things about our spines, our legs, our minds.  At one point she says to someone, "Was that an accident or did you mean to make that adjustment?" The student replied, "It was an accident, I just did it because it felt good."  Swati says to the class, "IF it comes accidentally, it is not yoga. Yoga has to be cultivated over time, then is comes mindfully."  I immediately had to run out of the room to write this down.  Sometimes the most simple suggestions are the most profound to me.  I will agree with Swati that Yoga has to be cultivated. I have been doing some form of yoga since I was 18 years old when I got my first yoga video that had Ganga White on it. Whenever I did this video I always felt different.  Then I moved on to yoga with a friend at a community college. We did the stare into a candle thing, do a few asanas and then sit very still. At the time I do not think I knew what I was doing!  It does not really matter where you start, it is still a door opening.  Over time,  the yoga will penetrate deeper into your body, then to your mind, and deeper still to the seat of your soul.


Friday, September 27, 2013

Happy 91st Birthday Jack

I am not sure why I am so taken by Jack.  Maybe it is because he is Welsh and still has an accent. Maybe it is because he is charming, kind, and funny.  Who knows which one it is, but I love him and I think most people who meet him do too.

I met Jack about 4 years ago when I was working up in the senior center. It was the Friday afternoon of the NSO luncheon.  On those days,  the senior center is quiet while everyone is out eating and having fun.  I typically would clean out cabinets, do some computer work and be there for the very few who ventered up to the center. The best days were when people called to make sure you knew about something that was happening in the city, or just to talk.  My boss, whom I miss working with,  used to crack up at the things people wanted to tell us. If they called to complain we used to just say it was the other persons fault since they were not there. It was easier that way, they would usually forget after they had someone to blame. People would call who were grumpy, happy, or even a little crazy.  One of my personal favorites, who I will call Annie for now, would come upstairs, sit right down and the desk and look at you. She would REALLY look at you, right in the eyes and see your soul.  She would always say she knew what I was thinking and I really do believe that she could.  I loved seeing her and her little notebook that she carried. She wrote everything down to make sure she did not forget anything or anyone. 

On one of these quiet Fridays I met Jack. He was not so sure why he was even up there except he knew he had to get out of the house and do something with himself.  He struck me first of all because he is tall and you even at this age, you knew he was something of a looker back in the day.  He sat down and we just began to talk. He told me how he had been widowed for 10 years.  He was depressed. He was not sure why he got up everyday. When he spoke of his wife, he would tear up and then I would cry for him.  His love of his wife was beautiful. I got him to sign-up for the next luncheon and he also signed-up for a gambling trip.  This was a big step at the time for him.  I took it a step further.  I told him about yoga. He was so interested right away. On Monday morning he was there in class. Since that day I think I can count 5 times he has not been in class. No matter the weather, how he feels, or anything, he is there.  This may be because he is a retired mailman.  Whatever it is, I have learned from him to get up and get out of bed, no matter what and stop feeling sorry for yourself. 

 I have tried to quit the rec center so many times, but for  one reason or another, I just can't. I feel such love and gratitude for the people who have stayed with me through the years.  In the seniors class, we have lost some people we love, we have gained some new friends.  Teaching this group of people is such a priviledge.  I learn something everyday about myself, life, friendships, family, and even how to just listen. That is what most people want, just to be heard. 

I have also learned that the Yoga is not just about the body.  It goes so much deeper for the seniors.  They cannot do handstands or bind there arms in twists anymore, but that doesn't matter.  They are there for the feeling they get when the breath in fully with awareness in parts of there bodies they have almost forgotten about. They are there for the community, the socializing, the ability to speak freely to other like minded people.

Until next year Jack......

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Prashant class -Can babies walk on a straight line?

I love that the questions keep on coming about India. People keep asking me how I am assimilating.  Did we get yelled at.  Did you see him, BKS Iyengar.  How am I getting back to things.  Once more, they are asking am I different.  I say again, a little.  I do more physical yoga now, read yoga texts more regularly, drink less  booze, eat smaller portions of food, drink more caffeine, and my favorite part, I write in my journal more. 

I have been journaling pretty regularly for about 10 years.  There have been a few times that a couple months go by and no writing, but on the whole I have been consistent.  Occasionally I go back to read what I wrote during my loosely termed, party animal days.  I really go back to see what I was thinking at the time,  or am I where I thought I would be at this point in my life.  After this last trip, I am already revisiting it even though it was 2 weeks ago!  It is as if I am craving the teachings of the Iyengars.  I am also craving the no work thing, the no responsibility thing,  and the simple life I had for a month.  There is something to be said for making things simple again.  Hand washing your clothes, going to by your food everyday at a little cart by the same smiling Indian woman, seeing the same cat on your walk by the same tree, being able to read whenever you feel like it.

This morning after reading a little I went back to a Prashant class.  That day I was up close to 5 am.  My body and mind already dreading the 2 hour class,  hoping I can stay alert enough to follow Prashant.  His teaching is so poetic,  his explanations so creative that you have to be awake and ready to go by 7am.  He talks almost every class about chai and coffee, so you know that he has had a least a cup of the good stuff before he comes to teach.

On this day he has the ladies and gentlemen separated into 2 groups.  Focusing on twisting, forward bends, and supportive inversions.  From time to time he will often say, "Come out of the pose, come and listen." We all make a circle around him as he is typically standing as he lectures us.  In this particular class he is all over the board.  The first break-out time he talks on Mike Tyson.  He says he is all brawn, no brain.  Not that this is a surprise to anyone in the room. He goes on to explain that Yog, which he calls it, not Yoga,  is not just about the physical poses or how perfect you are in them.  He rarely instructs on how to do the pose,  the Prashant classes are advanced so you better know how to modify to your body and know the Sanskrit. He continues on to teach about how the physical yoga opens you up to more knowledge.  Gets you in the mindset to be able to read, study, and absorb all that yoga really has to offer. Prashant describes learning the limbs of yoga in this way, "You are like a baby, you cannot put a baby on a straight line and expect them to walk perfectly.  They have to walk a few steps and fall down, then eventually they can walk, maybe unsteadily at first, but in time they will become steady."  How many times have you tried to kick up into a Handstand and not succeeded?  Will you just give up?  How many times have you tried to memorize the chant to Patanjali and it just has not stuck?  How many times have you tried to break a habit you think is wrong? Think of how long it takes for a baby to become stable enough to run? To walk up and down stairs? 

When the men and women finally come together to do  the same pose, a seated twist with the hand clasp, Prashant has us come out again.  This time as we gather I feel as though he is going to tell us a secret. Sometimes he is sly like that. If you have ever studied with him you know what I am talking about.  He will smile like he knows something we don't, and of course he does, then tell us something magical.  Prashant describes that  the clasp in Marichyasana III can be done in many different ways.  You can clasp as if you are meeting someone for the first time,  it can be done as though you are helping a friend up a hill, as a friendly gesture to someone in need.  Notice now he says, when you change this clasp over and over, how does it effect the body. Not just the whole body but the shoulders, the hands, the shoulder blades, the arms!  We get up and do Trikonasana and he teaches similar actions.  Do you do Trikonasana just for the legs?  Or can you do Trikonasana for the hands, the arms, the shoulders. This blew my mind.  Who even thinks like this? That morning I felt as though I was waking up out of a fog. 

I am deeply grateful for Prashants teachings.  He pushes you in a way that is not physical,  it is all mental.  I think in our western culture of Iyengar Yoga, we tend to push in a way that suggests we should be perfectly aligned at all times in our asana practice.  Not that we shouldn't care about the proper alignment, but maybe on occasion we as teachers could emphasize that a little less.  Push our students to a place that makes them really think about why they do yoga.  What makes them come to class week after week.  I am not saying just lay your students over some bolsters and talk them to death. I mean don't just teach the big toe and back heel all day.  Ask them where there minds are at when they are jumping there feet apart.  Are they being present or do they still think about other things while they are in class.  With all that is going on the world, all the flooding, the fires, the gassings, the guns, the consumerism, people are beginning to crave something deeper.  Most people want to be more connected to themselves, they want to have better health, they want to have more positive relationships. Yoga is just a stepping stone for these things. It takes work, study, and


Friday, September 13, 2013

With Prayers for the divine blessings, now begins an exposition of thesacred art of yoga.

Sutra 1.1 - atha yoganusasanam,  Now follows a detailed exposition of the discipline of yoga, given step by step in the right order, and with proper direction for self-alignment.
                                                                             -Light on the Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar-

I have been back from India for over 2 weeks now. I have been asked everything from, have you been transformed? Do you feel different?  Are you seeing a difference in your teaching? My answer is simple, yes I feel different. 

When I was in India I was reading the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras again.  Something happened. I actually understood on a very basic level what it meant. For years now, I read the sutras over and over, but nothing really sticks. It is not so easy to weave the philosophy into my teaching or my day to day life.  India was a way to slow down, connect with my mind and body again and sit with the teachings of the Iyengars. There was no pressure to be tested,  no pressure to perform, just to learn and absorb.

Now, yoga is happening in my life.  All facets of it. My mind is fresh, I am eager to learn more.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Tribute to the animals in India

This is just a sampling of animals Dana and I saw while in India. I think I can speak for both of us that the conditions are not ideal for the animals. Conditions being our very American standards of how most of us treat our animal friends. 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

24 hours after India

Travelling to India had always been a dream for me.  In many ways it seems as though it was just a dream.  Just 2 days ago I was in Pune at the Iyengar Institute practicing in the practice hall.  This morning I practiced for the first time since that day.  It felt really good to sit down on my mat and to have the dogs in the room with me. I will be honest, I missed the horns honking, the stray dogs barking, and I especially missed hearing Guruji teach the young teachers at the institute.  There is something so special about being in Pune.

A couple people told me before I left that I would be a different person after going to India.  I am not sure I am a different person, just a more reflective person, a less wasteful person. India itself is an intense experience. Intense in a way that I would have never understood if I had not gone.  The smell of food, people, animals, pollution, cars, rickshaws, human waste, animal waste, trash, and the amount  of noise of more people, animals, cars, rickshaws, birds, and water were such an attack on   my already sensitive senses. Now that I am back, I realize how quiet and orderly it is here.  Most people follow traffic signals and obey the unwritten rules on the bike path.  Even our house is so clean. Our water pressure in the shower is incredible it feels like a luxury.  It is these simple things I find the most amazing right now.  I am sure as the days pass, more of this trip will unfold in the simplest of things.

This last month has made me more grateful for the life I have created.  I really do believe that we ALL have the power to create whatever life we want. Whether it is just as simple as I want to run a mile or travel the world for a year,  whatever you dream can happen.  I am going to give myself a little time though before I find another goal, or another mission to tackle.  For the first time in my life I am going to let this seep into my life and not just hurry off to the next thing.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Masala Chai and it's addictive chemicals

Today is our last day in Pune. Tomorrow we head off to Mumbai bright and early to catch our flight to London.  The time has flown by, but also seems to have taken forever....

I think the forever part is because we are not working or doing things around the house like gardening, walking the dogs, and cleaning the house.  We actually have a maid here that makes our beds, which most of the time we do ourselves. She will also occasionally wash the dishes or make us our favorite Indian dish so far called Poha.  We do our own laundry, but I think our standard of clean clothes may have dropped a few notches.  Everyday I have had time to go for a walk, read, study, do a 3-4 hour practice, meet new people over a glass of masala chai, sightsee, cross the street carefully, and even get to know my room mate a little better. What a liesurley life I seem to be leading!  I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity to experience life and yoga in a different country.

The time at the Institute has flown by.  Not only because you are forced to stay present in the moment, but because I will miss little things about this place.  I will surely miss Guruji, Prashant, Geeta, and all the other teachers that have brought a new light to my practice and to my outlook in general to the way I practice.   I will not know what to do when I no longer here horns, cars backing up, dogs, people selling veggies right outside the institute windows.  Maybe I will be able to get in the state of stillness with a little more ease, maybe not.  This might be the key to pratyahara,  just have so much stimulus you are forced to ignore it and carry on.

We had our last walk around the park this morning, our last practice in the practice hall,  our last visit to the fruit and veggie cart.  Dana is making us our last meal of dahl, potatoes, carrots and spices. We will have one more pot of that chai.  Thank-god for the chai.  That smooth, creamy, sweet drink has gotten us through long rickshaw rides, sightseeing, shopping, lakshmi road, and has even been the link to Nana.  He tells his best stories while drinking chai. Even Prashant will go on and on about chai, coffee, tea.  He will describe how to cook the spices to get the right consistency.

I may not know what I will be like when I get back.  Who knows if I have changed, it is only a month I keep thinking. How can you change  in just one month? Time will tell. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Black Eyed Peas and Love all around!

The last two days have been some of my favorite days here in India.  We were invited to eat lunch at Geeta Bhojwani's house and our landlord's house Neena and Manu.  Geeta is a local resident here in Pune that has been selling unique items from around India for a long time.  She knew quite a few teachers that we know back in Denver and only had very fond memories of them.  Our first visit to her house was last Saturday night where she insisted that we not buy anything that night, but put our items in a backpack and come back to have lunch so we can make sure these are the things we really cannot live without.

Thursday was the day we had planned to have lunch and her driver would pick us up.  At 12:30 Dana and I went down to see if the car was there just about 5 minutes after the waiting time and he was there!  It's not that I do not think anything is on time here, it is just that we have really been noticing that things run on Indian time. He drives us to Geeta's where she is having some work done on her house.  New tiles have been put in, windows are being refinished, and paint will soon follow. It is such a nice space, cool white tiles, a breeze blowing in, and mouth watering smells coming from the kitchen.  We sit down after the workers take a break and she starts putting food on the table. Cauliflower and Potatoes with tumeric and onions. Fenugreek Puri's. Twice fried potatoes with mango powder and salt.  Yogurt. Rice. Black Eyed Peas in a tomato sauce that was incredible.  I could not believe she brought out those Peas. I knew this was our lucky day.

After lunch we go out to her shop and she turns on the air, gets us some chai, and we check out what we picked last time. I only put one thing back.  Dana was so funny, she loves to buy presents and it was a wonderful thing to watch.  She was thinking thoughtfully of who would like what.  During our time in the shop, Geeta would come out periodically and tell us stories that always seemed to have a similar ending.  The message was clear, love is what makes the world go round.  We are already going back again tomorrow. Not just for the shopping, but for the stories and that food.

We had lunch at Neena's yesterday and the meal could not have been more different.  We began with fresh squeezed lemonade. Food from her husbands native country Pakistan,  fresh corn and beet salad,  brown rice, squash riata, spicy potato nuggets,  and two kinds of chutneys. We finished with an ice cream of carrots, raisins, and almonds.  Chai and coffee to follow.  We talked with Neena, Manu, and Jill from Australia for almost 4 hours. Neena was carefully tending to the new Beagle puppy, Geo.  Her other 6 year old Beagle, Mojo was not all that sad to not be in that room with all the scolding of the puppy. The topic came up of what is a Guru.  Neena began to tell us the story of how she met Mom, who is the Guru at the Hari Krishna temple across the street. The house that we are staying in was actually built in the early 60's because they are devotees of the temple. She spoke of how  Mom has welcomed her into from the very beginning.  She has never cared once what cast she is in, what riches she might possess, or even her gender.  Again, the story was about Love.  All encompassing love.  

This visit to India has taught me a lot about myself.  I am judgemental.  I am afraid of things I cannot see.  I am push my feelings of anger and resentment on others.  When I return back to the states I hope I will be more forgiving, more attentive to the ones I love, and most of all be more open to new experiences. You never know who you will meet or what they will teach you:-)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Exorcism Part II

Yesterday I was feeling antsy and home sick.  I could not stay still. The only things out of my mouth were, "I cannot wait to do this when I get home, I cannot wait to see Robert and the dogs." They were all followed by "I pray I stay in the moment the rest of our trip here.  To learn, to see, to experience all the culture of this country and absorb as much of Gurujis teachings that I can."

I got my wish.

Dana and I decided to get to the institute a little early this morning because they opened the women's class up yesterday to the men who were in the advanced classes. We show up and grab our props and decide to set-up near where Guruji sets up since it looked as though he would not be there.  While getting settled,  Gulnaz instructed us to move all the props out of the way because Guruji was coming.  I thought to myself, AHHHHH!!!!  I cannot possibly be in his sight. I will most likely be the cause of the yelling, the disappointment.  He gets set-up in his backbend and we lay out our mats again.  It seems I have made it almost to the front row over by the rope wall. How did this happen? Why am I sitting this close? Have I gone mad?

Gulnaz leads the chant. I love the way she chants to Lord Patanjali.  The little inflections in her voice are so beautiful.  She chants with love and devotion.  We start off with Adho Mukha Virasana and listen to the murmurings behind us of Guruji and Raya.  Guruji often will do this, tell another teacher what he wants him to teach. Apparantly it was to teach our minds to be ahead of our bodies. He begins with leading us through jumpings and speaking about staying ahead in the future with our minds so we can be in the present with our bodies.  Wow! Have they read my mind today?  We go through many of these, leading with the mind first.  We do some jumping back and forth for standing poses and he says "lift your chest!  When you are angry, what happens to your chest?" We all say,"It lifts!" Very proud we are that we got one right.  He then says, "Ok then, make your chest like you are angry, but don't get angry!"  When we come to Tadasana for a rest, he says, "Contain yourself!" This was the beginning of container class.  The container you might ask?  Yes, the container of your upper body region,  the ribs, the collar bones, the thoracic. If you can maintain the contents of your container while doing jumpings, poses like Prasarita Padottanasana, Parsvottanasana, Parvritta Trickonasana, Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, and Sirsasana (two times, for a long time) then you have mastered your containter. We did not master this.  I heard Guruji say, "They are not learning anything!" When I really though about it, he was very right. We are so stuck in the psyicality of the poses we completely ignore the mind. We did everything a lot today.  It got hot in the room, my shirt was soaked, but I did not even notice until we were done.  We did things 4, 5, 6 times, we swung our bodies into Prasarita Padottanasana in a way today that I thought this cannot be ok.  Of course it was ok.  This man is a master,  a master who we are so fortunate to hear in action at this time.

We had 3 teachers today Raya, Abi, and Guruji.  The three of them are in my opinion, something special.  I never got to experience an asana class like some people have described in the lastest Yoga Samachar, but I feel as though I am getting a taste of what Guruji must have been like in the early days of the institute. Full of life, vigor, and humor.  After Sirsasana,  we do Marichyasana III.  She tells us afterwards we are too slow in learning this so we must move on to Sarvangasana.  We set-up the mats which 3 people share.  Once we get up, with a few instructions about the back ribs, have we forgotten completely about our container?  We are in the pose for a bit and we hear Guruji saying something to Abi about the ghosts in the buttocks. Ghosts?  This is a new one.  She then goes on to describe how we need to lift the buttocks, this is the only way we will get our back thigh skin to move to our feet and our front shin skin to go down.  Abi asks us,"Has anyone ever seen the Exorcist movies?  Have an exorcism to get the ghosts out of your buttocks!"  I heard Dana laugh, if you know her you know her laugh and it is not quiet.  I hear everyone else laughing and I think to myself, "Oh lord, did there is no way they have read my blog....I hope I don't get kicked out."  She refers to the ghosts and the exorcisms a few more times and it is funny everytime:-)

I am not sure if I got the ghosts out of my buttocks.  I am hoping they are at least a little more intelligent.  These teachings from Guruji are so transformational.  I never knew my mind could be more present and did not know that my body could do what it did today.  This trip has been transformational, not just the teachings, the yoga, the philosophy.  I am inspired, beginning to see the world in a whole new light.

If by some chance any of the Iyengar Family reads this blog or anything else I have put out there about Iyengar Yoga, I hope they can get through the comedy and actually see what love and gratitude I have for them.  The way they have dedicated their lives for the teaching of Yoga is truly inspirational.  They have touched people all across the globe and I am one of them.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blackboard vs. Backboard

This morning was Prashants class from 7-9 am.  He starts us off again in Upavistha Konasana with a twist, then Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana with the chair for I think about 13 minutes.  Then off to Sirsasana in the ropes for it felt like for me 10 minutes or more.  More Dwi Pada in the chair and to backarches in the middle of the room. No dropping to floor, just straight up arching backwards for again what felt like ages.  More backbends on the floor, Ustrasana, Urdvha Mukha Svanasana, Bujangasana,  Dhanurasana.  To the ropes next for a chest opener standing then knees to bolster.  To floor one last time for Urdvha Dhanurasana a few times and to finish Supta Padangusthasana I and Chair Sarvangasana.  He keeps saying things like Blackboard or Backboard?  Backey or Backology?

This is the way he does things. We set off in to groups and rotate around until everyone has had a chance to experience the pose with the points he is making.  This month he is stressing the importance of the breath and the effect it has on the body, more especially the thoracic.  At the beginning it was easy to follow is instructions, but my body did not want to cooperate. At this point in the month I am getting it.  Not as much squirming while he is talking, my body seems to get it at times now.

Today he was talking about learning the ABC's and the simplicity of a chalkboard and its components. How we have to start somewhere even if it is in just the physical asana.  But at this point if we are coming to his advanced class we should be past that. We should be moving inward.  Acknowledging how our minds effect the asana, not the other way around. He went on at the end of class to talk about yoga in the modern world.  About how we are more concerned with the yoga outfit than the yoga itself.  He is right, I am in that crowd of people.  Spending an obscene amount of money on a pair of yoga pants because I like the way they look.  I was so afraid to wear these bloomers because of the veins and cellulite on my legs,  I am way past that now people. You get over it quick here in India.  You are forced in to the reality of every situation and to see how petty and vain we can really be.

We only have a week left here in India,  my eyes are wide open now to the ways of India.  I hope when I get back I will be able to relax more about my to do lists, not care so much about little things in my body I dislike, and learn to accept life more gracefully the way Indian people do.

A formal apology to my husband about his driving...

Yesterday Dana and I went to the Karla Caves that are about an hour from Pune.  We were asked about a week ago if we wanted to share a car with some other women who are also studying this month at the institute. We arrived at the meeting place at 6:30am Sunday morning.  This is very early for Indian standards. The 7 of us and our driver pile into an SUV and we are on our way.  Our plan from early on was to stop for breakfast and drive up to a few lookouts over the countryside before we went to the caves.  Our driver was pumping the global dance music from the start, some Indian, lots of American rap and pop. It was a party from the time the car started moving.

We get to the breakfast stop at about 8, this was after stopping to ask at least 4 times to see if anything was open at that time. I think we turned around in the middle of the street a few times, we came very close to hitting a cow. The driver just honked and honked and the cow just walked slowly our of our way. The little town we to was full of cows, people, trash, and smells.  We order a round of chai and breakfast. When the food begins arriving I see my favorite Pooha come to the table. I did not order it and was a little sad about it but Dana and I had brought some eggs and fruit to be safe.  You never go anywhere in India without snacks, water, and some sort of sanitizer be it wipe kind of the liquid kind.  We get back on the road about an hour later and drive up a long and winding mountain road. At the beginning of the ascent one of the beautiful Itlaians yells out, "La cascada! La cascada!"  It was one of those comments that will stick with me forever, the way she said it, and  her excitement while saying it.  While we are steadily moving up the hill passing other cars, honking at each other and praying we do not hit anything or a pothole, it is getting foggy and very rainy.  At this stopping point the rain was blowing sideways!  We ended up stopping for a bit since the rain was so bad and someone else in the car felt a little car sick. While sitting in the car, a small boy came up through the dense fog and asked if we wanted a chai.  I could not figure out where he was coming from, but when he ran away when we said no we saw a small shelter in the fog about a 100 yards away.

We get back on the road, decide the fog and rain are too much to fight with and drive to the Karla cave. Once we finally get there we walk up a hill and along the way are people selling sweets, roasted corn, and offerings for the temple at the top.  We pay for our tickets and go to the cave.  The Karla caves date back to 160 B.C.! We go inside and cannot believe the size of the carvings inside.  Ganesh and many other Hindu Gods are depicted here. Here is a link to read more:

We get back on the road and decide to go back to Pune to get a bite for lunch.  I am amazed once again at the agility of these Indian drivers. I am not as scared as I was in the beginning, I may actually be getting used to the flow of traffic here. We are barreling down the road swerving to miss people, dogs, other cars, rickshaws.  Once we arrive back in Pune we have another chai, a bite to eat and go to the German bakery near the Osho ashram.  The bakery was bombed a few years back so we have to count how many were in our party and go through a metal detector.  This bakery is full of pastries that are mostly chocolate.  Indians love their chocolate!

After yesterday I realized that I will not be so scared anymore of being a passenger.  I want to formally apologize to my husband about all the crap I give him in the car. He could be a great taxi or rickshaw driver here in India if his current job doesn't work out:-)

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Exorcism in Pune

This morning Dana and I did our usual routine, got up, had coffee, Face Time with our families back home, went for a walk, bought fruit, got ready and went to class.  We got a great spot today, moving closer to the platform by one row. 

Typically Saturday is taught by Geeta, but you just really never know so best to be prepared and open for anything.  Today we were greeted to Raya.  He is a very experienced yoga practitioner and teacher at the Institute, who is young, handsome, and well spoken. He began class as usual with the invocation.  Raya then made the announcement that today he would just be calling out the names with very little instruction, a more reflective practice to basically show them you have been listening to what Geeta has been saying in these women's classes.  This sequence is one of those that really makes you wonder if you will make it through class alive after the 1st 30 minutes, but of course you will because they would never ask you do something they knew you could not accomplish.  We were sweating, not just a little sweat, I mean I had sweat dripping down my face during Sirsasana and that was in the first 20 minutes.  After he called out the Sanskrit name to the pose he would look at his watch and hold us there from 30-1minute for standing poses and longer for the inversions. Dana and I think it must have been 7-10 minutes for Sirsasana and at least 10 or longer for Sarvangasana.  Stephanie Quirk was walking around looking at people making small adjustments, two other teachers were on the platform doing the poses with us. It really felt like community during these two hours.  Everyone working hard, listening, breathing together, doing the yoga.  Very little talking except from Raya or Stephanie.  

I will just list the sequence as best as I can below. It is very long and was difficult to get straight, but I think Dana and I got most of it. The list may not seem cohesive at 1st glance, but in the moment working the points Geetaji has been making it all comes together. I am recording some of the sequences here, not to copy and think I am anywhere near this teaching level.  Just to merely put them down and try to remember how truly happy and content I felt during and after. I am and will always be in awe of this amazing teaching here in India.

Padangustasana-concave back
Vira I x 2
Paschima Namaskarasana
Sirsasana-10 min
AMSvanasana to Urdvha Mukha Svanasana x 3
Dhanurasana x 2
Urdvha Mukha Svanasana
Ustrasana x 2
Urdvha Dhanurasana x 2
Dwi Pada Vipariti Dandasana x 2
Urdvha Dhanurasana
Chakrasana (I believe this is the spelling, lift head off the floor from Dwi Pada)
Eka Pada Vipariti Dandasana-keep lifted leg bent and in towards chest x 2
Vira I
Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana
Parivrtta Trikonasana
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana
Prasarita Padottanasana
Uttanasana with legs as wide as mat-turning to right leg holding on with both hands repeat on the left
Janusirsasana x 2
Maricyasana x 2
Triang Mukaiekapada Paschimottanasana x 2
Virasana with twist
Baddhakonasana with twist
Upavistha Konasana with twist
Upavistha Konasana-Parsva

Friday, August 16, 2013

Pranayama class #3

Our third pranayama class was taught tonight by Rajalaxmi.  Rajalaxmi is a regular asisstant to Geeta, she is also one of the teachers who often travels with the Iyengar family.   Now she is one of my favorite Pranayama teachers.  Not because she taught difficult digital pranayama,  not because she was poetic, not because she was funny.  She was clear,  kind, calm, her instructions were effective.

It is so interesting the effect a teacher can have on a student. If a teacher is calm during Pranayama some students may find this boring, they may fall asleep.  Some students may enjoy a more upbeat voice, one that commands they sit up straight! I guess it really depends where you are at that moment in time. Tonight, this is what I needed. Nurturing.

Pranayama can do magical things when done properly.  When done incorrectly, one can have adverse reactions.  I am no stranger to latter. When I was in High School I was diagnosed with asthma.  I was often sick as a result of allergies and the inability to breath fully. I had always wanted to be a runner, a hiker, some sort of athlete, but just the thought of running made me tired.  Upon starting yoga, moving to a dryer climate and a better diet, the asthma symptoms did improve.  A few years ago the symptoms returned, and once again I feel as though I am at a disadvantage when practicing Pranayama.

Tonight however was a different story.  Rajalaxmi began class with instructing us how to sit. For at least 10 minutes we sat with cupped fingertips, rolling our upper shoulder bones back, keeping length in the lumber. She remained calm, I remained calm.  We did a few rounds of supine Pranayama and seated Pranayama. We then ended with the white blanket folded in a way I had not seen stuffed right under the top of the thoracic spine.  For one of the first times in a few days, my breathing began to calm, my chest felt a little loose!  It was a very simple practice of Ujjai 1,2 and Viloma 1,2, but they felt so clear and calm for the first time in a very long time. No anxiety, no breathlessness, no sweaty palms.

There is a sutra I thought of after Pranayama tonight.  Sutra II.4. Not because of it's actual meaning, but because in Light on the Yoga Sutras there is a paragraph following II.4 that I think is so beautiful.  It is how I feel when Pranayama goes well, I am at peace, I feel very clear,  and I can see myself for who I am becoming through the practice of Yoga.  It goes like this:

..."In daily life, however, we are very much aware of the upper surface of the lens, facing outwards to the world and linked to it by the senses and mind.  This surface serves both as a sense, and as a content of consciousness,  along with ego and intelligence. Worked upon by the desires and fears of turbulent wordly life, it becomes cloudy, opaque, even dirty and scarred, and prevents the soul's light from shining through it. Lacking inner illumination, it seeks all the more avidly the artificial lights of conditioned existence.  The whole technique of yoga, its practice and restraint, is aimed at dissociating consciousness from its identification with the phenomenal world, at restraining the senses by which it is ensnared, and at cleansing and purifying the lens of citta, until it transmits wholly and only the light of the soul." -Light on the Yoga Sutras by B.K.S. Iyengar