10,000 Vinyasas

A Tale of Two Practices: Temperature, Maehle, and Bringing Acceptance

by on Jul.02, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

I have addressed this issue before in this blog, but to review: during yoga or any athletic activity, I sweat profusely. When temperatures are too warm and humid, my abilities and concentration start to falter, and my performance suffers. This is not new, and is peculiar to me alone, but it has been a source of some frustration in my yoga practice. I have been taking a led Primary Series on Saturday mornings, interspersed with a Mysore practice at the studio when eminent teachers appear. Of course, this has been quite the hot summer already, starting at least 4-6 weeks early and featuring relentless heat. Last Saturday, I arrived at the studio for the led Primary and noted that the temperature in the studio was already warm. At this point, I had all my “sweat management tools:” the towels, blanket, bandanna, etc., ready to begin, but this time decided to approach the practice in a slightly different way, since I knew what I was in for. What I told myself this particular morning was to just relax, remove all expectations of what I would like to “accomplish” during the session and simply accept whatever came from doing my practice on this day. I was just as hot and sweaty during the series as I anticipated, and my practice by any objective standard was below par, but it didn’t matter–my acquiescence to the experience produced a kind of serenity despite the conditions. Although feeling drained and somewhat tired, I left feeling more satisfied than I had in some time.

Today’s Mysore practice was much different, primarily because I had the benefit of a cooler environment. It felt at least ten degrees cooler this morning in the studio when I began the session and I could detect a dramatic change in my focus and concentration. Without having to react to extensive amounts of sweat dripping from all parts of my body, I could pay much more attention to my breath, the order of the poses (I didn’t forget any or mix up the order, something that happens frequently), and consequently, I had an easier time lengthening my practice and taking full advantage of the instruction. I exited from this practice feeling energized and serene, a fine combination, and one I’ve rarely experienced. I got a strong feeling that this was pretty close to my ideal yoga practice.

Well. What can we learn from these two Saturdays? It seems clear to me that, although I can clearly derive more benefit from practicing yoga in a cooler environment, this is something over which I will have little control, at least until I am in charge of my own studio (joke!). Therefore, acceptance of the prevailing conditions is my only weapon, and the results of this are measurable, at least psychologically. Whether my physical practice benefits is another issue. I should also at least attempt to practice as much as possible in cooler environments, to the extent that I am not sacrificing the quality of instruction. Since I am doing my own practice on an almost daily basis, this is well within reach. To conclude, when I was teaching at the resort in Riviera Maya a couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to peruse Ashtanga Yoga, Practice and Philosophy, by Gregor Maehle. I quite enjoyed this book, with its thorough review of the Primary Series combined with many alignment and anatomical comments. What stopped me in my tracks was this passage on the correct temperature, since it flies in the face of many yoga instructors’ ideas on temperature, and I quote it in full:

“If you practice on a hot country, you will heat up quickly. This is especially true of males. Care needs to be taken not to overheat if one is engaging in strenuous practice in a hot environment. As with any type of engine, so also with the human body: overheating is not good. Sweating is healthy, but if sweat drips from the body it is a sign that the body is no longer able to cool itself adequately.Sweating to this degree on a daily basis literally drains life force from the body. A temperature of 68 F would be ideal for practice, but practice speed needs to be adapted–faster when it’s cold to increase heat and slower when it’s hot to cool down. On a hot day, focus on the cooling quality of the breath.
Heating the yoga room to above 77 degrees may produce more flexibility, but it decreases strength, stamina and concentration. If yoga were only about flexibility, contortionists would be the greatest yogis. It is worth noting that extreme flexibility is often a result of biochemical imbalance. True posture is about the ability fo focus deeply within.
The Ashtanga Vinyasa practice attempts to balance flexibility with strength. Real yoga ‘will walk the edge between opposing extremes.’ Rather than desperately cranking ourselves into one particular direction in a posture, we expand simultaneously in all directions. The first pair of opposites that we discover in physical yoga is strength/flexibility. Excess flexibility is an obstacle because it means loss of strength, and vice versa. We should never build up a degree of flexibility that is not matched by the necessary support strength. On the other hand, building up great strength withouth increasing one’s flexibility restricts the range of joint movement.
A heated yoga room helps flexibility because it increases vata and pitta. A cold yoga room helps strength because it increases kapha. A cold room also increases awareness and attention to detail. We have to study the posture more deeply to get to the same point in a cold room, but this pays off in terms of benefits. There is more learning if the temperature is low, and the body becomes sturdier due to the awakening of physical intelligence. We can avoid this process by turning up the thermostat, but everybody who has worked through a couple of winters with only moderate heating values the gain in refinement it brings.
If temperatures are high, proper ventilation is necessary. The western fashion of keeping all windows closed in sweltering temperatures so that you can see puddles of sweat on the floor is surprising, considering that I have never seen a yoga room in India that even had closeable windows. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika warns in several places of the dangers of too much heat and too much heating, by staying too close to the fire for example, and also of excess physical exertion. Getting too cold, for instance by taking cold morning baths, is also not recommended. The idea here is moderation: staring away from the extremes and abiding in the center. Once a yogi is fully established, however, extremes will no longer be of concern. ”

I have nothing to add here; this is as good and complete a dissertation on temperature as one could hope for. I think this may be the final word on sweating that appears on this blog, for those who are tired of reading about it.

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Make Your Own Granola

by on Jun.26, 2011, under Cooking, recipes

For some reason, this popped into my head the other day: granola! Of course I had to try to make some. Here’s the recipe I cribbed off the internet, modified of course to my own needs:

4 cups oats (3 regular, 1 rye)
1/3 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup maple syrup
a bunch of mixed nuts (cashew, almond, pecan, walnut, macadamia)
a bit of vanilla
1/3 cup flax seed
some salt
about half a cup of shredded coconut

mix oats, nuts and flax seed together, spread out on nonstick baking pan. Melt coconut oil, add to maple syrup along with vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Add this to the pan of oats and stir. Bake at 325 for 15 minutes, stir, and bake again for 15 minutes.

Ok, this turned out really well, and is yet another item you don’t need to buy at the store. Just get the ingredients and mix it up!

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Where Yoga Takes You…

by on Jun.25, 2011, under teaching, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga practice

Well. I have become aware, since I started my yoga practice about four and a half years ago, that yoga was something different from just another exercise routine. Specifically, yoga takes you places, and yoga brings people together. I know these are somewhat banal, at least to those who practice, but they are and continue to be meaningful aphorisms in my practice and life. The culmination of these thoughts occurred in the past week, when I traveled to a resort south of Cancun, Mexico, and taught yoga there. This arrangement was facilitated by a group called FitBodies, which places fitness instructors including yoga, in resorts around the Caribbean and other places. Basically, the deal is you pay a fee to go teach for a week in an all-inclusive resort, which works out to be a substantial discount to regular prices. Since I have often traveled to the Riviera Maya in search of underwater experiences (i.e., scuba diving), this seemed like something to explore. I chose the most elaborate, expensive resort of all selections and it proved to be an outstanding choice, in quality and service. Everything was as luxurious as I expected from perusing the website, and the level of accommodations, food and service turned out to be simply amazing.

overlooking the pool

My only duty was to teach one class a day, and of course, that was just fun, from my perspective. It also gave me the discipline to practice every morning, before anything else, which I have not done before or at least in a long time. At any rate, it was quite an enjoyable experience, and enhanced by the fact that I got to teach a number of people who hadn’t practiced yoga before. One couple came faithfully and worked hard for the two days we had with them, and repaid me at the end by paying for my scuba dive! I would be more surprised, but I have also noticed that teaching and practicing yoga tends to produce these kind of experiences. Soooo, what I found was that yoga had taken me to a luxurious seaside resort and enabled me to take a quite excellent scuba dive, and all without any effort on my part. It also helped that the scuba dive was exceptionally exciting, since the currents were very strong, and the dive master who accompanied me actually drove from Playa del Carmen a couple of days after that to take my yoga class. All in all, a wonderful trip, and one I will certainly repeat at the earliest opportunity.

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Teaching Update

by on Jun.15, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

I am teaching this week at a resort south of Cancun. I’m intending to post a more detailed explanation of how I got here and my experiences soon but just to say today, it has been a wonderful experience and yet another example of how yoga just takes you places, opens doors, and connects you to people. If you are considering a yoga practice, do not wait, just do it now!

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Random Thoughts About Yoga…

by on May.14, 2011, under Uncategorized

I love Primary Series, because afterwards, I feel great for the rest of the day, and it feels like my body was meant to be this free, open and flexible.

Yoga is one of the disciplines that is most unforgiving of excuses for age: I have seen way too many older people doing amazing and inspiring yoga to let anybody off because of their age.

“Yoga is like brushing your teeth. You have to do it every day.”—David Swenson.

The good feelings you get after yoga practice are addicting, in a good way. You tend to seek these out as you practice yoga more and more. This, in my opinion, is the reason yoga kind of takes over your life, after awhile. It is so much more than just exercise.

Yoga is a practice that causes you to question what you think is important, just because it changes you so much. Modern industrial civilization is, at heart, incompatible with yoga, or rather, the lessons that yoga teaches are opposed to industrial civilization, because industrial civilization depends on convincing you to want more, and yoga teaches you to be happy within yourself.

Yoga is a lifelong practice; to be successful, adopt a longterm attitude.

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Some Fun Poses…

by on Apr.29, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

I really wish I were a more consistent photographer, but I rarely can be bothered to take pictures, even when I have a decent camera phone as I do now. Recently, I was invited to a photo shoot at the studio, where some actual professionals took pictures of us. I was expecting a head shot only, but they wanted us to pose as well. Here are some that I did:

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Certification Complete

by on Apr.24, 2011, under Acro Yoga, teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Well, as of yesterday, I’m officially done with teacher training, following a brief and painless meeting with our trainer. I note that this certification has really very little to do with how good a yoga teacher one is, and it was only for the value of the credential that I undertook to obtain it. It was the only ambition that I had regarding my yoga practice, and now it is over. Seems that I can now consider teaching at resorts in exchange for free or reduced stays, which would be interesting, I guess. I did actually learn some new stuff during this training, and I enjoyed getting to know many of the trainees (“yoga brings people together”). Despite the above, I did feel an unexpected sense of accomplishment when I exited from the meeting yesterday. Not that I’m looking to expand my teaching much at this point; my “other” job has been busy and I also have many other interests and projects that take up time. Nonetheless, I get enormous gratification from teaching people yoga, and my life would be quite empty without it. Sure, it sometimes infringes on practice time, but the psychological benefits are tremendous. That was one point of agreement I had with our trainer.
(practice notes) I’ve been doing more Ashtanga, both on my own, and in led classes lately. The style really is cathartic; it burns away mental impurities and leaves me feeling relaxed and joyful for the rest of the day. At the same time, it’s challenging enough to retain my interest and record my progress, at least in my head. I’m picking up a lot of good practice tips from Lisa Long’s led class. Oh, and acro’s going well too.

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Two Year Anniversary of Teaching Yoga!

by on Apr.13, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

I just realized that it’s been two years since I started teaching yoga, and wanted to comment on that. During the last two years, I’ve consistently taught at least 3 classes a week, and for most of that time, taught one or more private lessons averaging twice a month. I’ve watched as my teaching has grown more confident and my classes have gotten larger, for the most part. I now have what I consider to be the best teaching schedule, at the right times and places, and so I don’t spend a lot of time traveling or finding subs when I have schedule conflicts. I’d have to say that teaching yoga has become one of my great joys in life; it is just so much fun to help people discover the benefits of practicing yoga, and to think that I have something to offer, well, I still find that kind of amazing. Part of me still wonders sometimes why people come to my classes; I guess I have a little of the “imposter syndrome” when it comes to teaching yoga, and this is probably because I started teaching only after I took a weekend yoga teaching course. Of course, what I didn’t realize was that I had accumulated quite a bit of knowledge about yoga that wasn’t reflected in the brief formal teacher training, and so I do feel that one should have a strong yoga practice before beginning teaching. From my teacher training (the 250 hour one), it’s clear that some people who want to teach yoga don’t begin this way, to their detriment. At any rate, I no longer have that little gasp of apprehension when I face a large class, or some other yoga teacher appears in my class. From the howling success that I’ve had, I’m glad that I started teaching by trying to modify Primary Series, because I believe in the Ashtanga system, but at the same time, its full application to a mixed-level class has some challenges. A balance between authenticity and not scaring off beginners, is what it boils down to. From here, I’m looking forward to wherever this second career will take me. Namaste!

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Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal: First Impression

by on Apr.08, 2011, under Cooking, food, product review

I got this from Amazon, using their 15% off discount for Subscribe and Save. It comes in small plastic bags, and looks somewhat like steel-cut oats. Anyway, I tried it this morning; here’s my first impressions: interesting texture. Reminds me of the Cream of Rice hot cereal I used to eat when I was a kid. Thick and hearty when prepared with 1% milk. Good flavor; easy to make. Highly recommend. Of course, this stuff isn’t cheap; as I’ve mentioned before, buying your own cereal ingredients from bulk bins is the cheapest way to go, and offers the most control. Still, it’s good to have some variety.

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Counting In Sanskrit, and the Benefits of Ken’s Teaching

by on Apr.06, 2011, under teaching, Yoga

For awhile now, I’ve been trying to learn to count in Sanskrit during Suryanamascar. It’s kind of difficult, especially the B, since the count goes up to 17, and the words are relatively unfamiliar, mostly because I learned Ashtanga Primary Series from Ken, who did not count, but instead used descriptive words to get students into the poses (no doubt reflecting his background in teaching yoga at the gym, which was where I met him). It has become clear to me recently that the benefit of learning Primary from this kind of teacher turned out to be that I can quite effectively take new (or newish, I guess) students into the poses easily, using descriptive words. During my attendance at some of the community classes we are required to teach and go to, I noticed that other teachers don’t necessarily have this facility, to their detriment. What this did for me specifically was to allow me to more easily move into teaching, since I had basically memorized without trying, the descriptions of the large number of poses in Primary Series. So, back to counting: I’ve been practicing it during my private lessons, and last night felt confident enough to count the last “B” all the way through (I made it funny by using my “Pattabhi Jois voice”). It was fun, and added a new dimension to teaching. In other notes, I’ve been expanding my pose repetoire to include some Second Series poses, like Dhanuasana, Ustrasana and Bhekasana. I’m sure my longtime students appreciate the variety; I sometimes feel like I’m in a bit of a rut teaching the same order and kind of poses every week (then again, it’s modified Primary, so it should be mostly the same, I suppose).

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Progress, and Kundalini

by on Mar.15, 2011, under Acro Yoga, Yoga, Yoga practice

Well, I’m continuing to make more progress in acro-yoga. My handstands have a lot more control, and my drop-overs are getting better. I’m almost ready to do kickovers by myself; I only need a tiny push to get airborne, most of the time. On the other hand, I’m having some knee pain, and I suspect that it has to do with my lack of cardio activity; a muscle imbalance my have formed, is what it feels like. At any rate, I have a month of Kundalini classes at a local studio, and so I think I will take this opportunity to get more experience with this style of yoga.

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Almost done…

by on Mar.03, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

With teacher training. It’s been a long slog, and I’ll be glad when it’s over. I’ve learned some things, and have gotten more exposure to the Yoga Sutras, chanting, meditation, and other practices. It certainly has taken up a lot of time, and I’m sure I’ll breathe a sigh of relief when I have more space to do stuff (like rebuilding a used espresso machine, to be discussed in an upcoming post). Anyway, I’m not sure this particular version was exactly what I was expecting, in the sense that I was thinking there would be more Ashtanga-specific teaching. At any rate, I’ve picked up a new private lesson this week, and a potential opportunity to teach a class, outside of a formal studio. My practice is going well; my knees are still sore but sometimes allow Padmasana and other poses.

(Update) Ok, we are done (well, not quite–still have to teach three “community classes,” my exam is not graded yet, and there was a mysterious hint about a possible “additional assignment” for some), but at least most of it is over. Will be nice to concentrate on other things. In addition, it may be a while before I take another workshop; I think I’ve done enough for now and want to concentrate more on my practice.

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David Swenson/Shelley Washington Workshop

by on Feb.10, 2011, under teaching, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga practice

I’m giving props to Shelley by billing her equally with her husband, since she was such an integral part of the instruction (and, I liked her very much). David Swenson is perhaps the last of the traditional Ashtanga Yoga people that I’ve been taking workshops from over the past year (readers will recall David Williams, Doug Swenson, Nancy Gilgoff, and Tim Miller), so I was eager to hear his perspective. The first session was a led primary class; I got a lot out of David’s suggestions for modifications to some of the poses. In the afternoon session, it was nice to get, yet again, another perspective on lifting up and jumping back. I guess I would say that David Swenson is pretty close to Nancy Gilgoff in his traditional style, although he has a sense of humor very similar to his brother, Doug. Doug, of course, is kind of a maverick in the traditional Ashtanga area, and incorporated some tai-chi movements into some of the transitions between poses. David does not actually have a studio in Austin where he and Shelley live; apparently, he just travels and teaches, along with the sales from his books and videos. Nice way to make a living from yoga, in my opinion. The second day’s opening session was an introduction to Second Series, and of course, I’m familiar with this, having practiced many of the poses in some of Yoga Shala’s classes. I’m only able to do about 50% of Second, but it’s still fun to try. We did a lot of work with partners in this session, and overall, it was a very nice experience. (I had to skip the pranayama session at the end, since I had to go teach). I probably should purchase at least one of his books, since it seems very helpful in teaching modifications to difficult poses.

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by on Feb.07, 2011, under Acro Yoga, Yoga, Yoga practice

I’ve progressed to the point in my drop-backs (into backbend) that Vladimir now refuses to “assist” me anymore…yay! I’ve never actually gotten to that point in anything I’ve attempted in acro-yoga, so it feels nice to master a skill like this, even though I do recognize that I could do a lot more to improve my form, and I will, of course. It seems to me an amazing accomplishment, since I had so little ability when I started, and it took a loooooong time. I’m learning, though, that some of the more advanced poses and sequences in yoga may take quite some time to master, and this process is just normal. I’m really trying to move away from being so result-oriented in this activity, and I think I get more serenity that way. It’s difiicult not to envy someone who can easily do what you struggle to accomplish, but remembering that no one’s practice is perfect, and that even your teachers struggle with poses, gives one more serenity. A report on the David Swenson workshop is upcoming…

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The Meaning of This…

by on Jan.12, 2011, under Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga practice

“Pain is not a punishment. Pleasure is not a reward.”–Chodron, Buddhist nun.

My assignment for teacher training is to expound on the meaning of these aphorisms. First, we observe that many benefits come from pain, especially in the physical activity realm. I’m thinking specifically about when I broke my ankle; it was upsetting to not be able to do cardio for six weeks, but I addressed my upper body and core in that time and emerged from injury much stronger. Also, progress in yoga practice is only gained through effort (which might be called pain); certainly poses which come easily to one do not present a challenge, or an opportunity to deepen one’s physical practice. The observation that a perfect pose or sequence is the product of years of dedication and hard work certainly applies here too. Pain can also be a valuable warning in practicing asanas, sounding an alarm that the body is unready for the chosen pose. Conversely, indulging in pleasure often comes with an additional, sometimes unintended amount of pain. Giving in to one’s appetites for sweets or other culinary temptations produces a momentary feeling of pleasure, but later, this fades and is replaced with dissatisfaction with the additional weight gain. Drinking alcohol in excess is an even more obvious example. The natural human tendency is to seek pleasure and avoid pain, but as we can see, this strategy is shortsighted and fails to take into account the true nature of these two opposites. As yogis, we are called upon to recognize the deceptive appearance of pain and pleasure and rise above our natural inclinations. Ultimately, we should look at these two equally, with indifference to their effects, and treat them both the same.

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You Know You’re a Yoga Nerd When…

by on Jan.11, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

1. you wear nothing but Lululemon, not just to yoga practice, but everywhere.
2. you practice counting in Sanskrit under your breath at odd moments during the day.
3. the words “pincha mayurasana” no longer strike fear into your heart.
4. the only thing you care about is getting to that next yoga class.
5. conversely, your home practice is just as satisfying as your studio practice.
6. bending over to pick up something is an exercise in pleasure.
7. you can wear through a travel mat in about 2 months.
8. you sit in Virasana while watching tv at home.
9. watching tv seems kind of meaningless compared to yoga practice.
10. you harangue your significant other into taking yoga classes.
11. you find yourself using ujjayi breathing throughout your day.
12. and it makes you calmer.
13. you mostly hang out with other yogis; other people “just don’t get it.”
14. you can turn on a light switch with your foot, while loaded down with bags of groceries (thanks, Becky!)
15. you can’t understand why people think jumping into seated is hard.
16. you think the opening and closing mantras are “cool.”
17. you’d rather sit on the floor than in a chair, to open your hips, of course.
18. practicing Primary Series seems more relaxing than strenuous.

Readers, any more?

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Progress In Practice and Teaching

by on Jan.04, 2011, under teaching, Yoga

Through practice (both Acro and yoga), my Pincha Mayurasana has improved to the point where I can know expect to perform it away from the wall, at least according to one teacher I took last week. I never thought I would get that one, at all; for some reason, I just found it to be especially difficult. On another note, my Primary Series practice has improved to the point that I’m able to do a passable version of about 90% of the poses. The practical effect of this is to make my self-practice even more enjoyable. Yesterday afternoon I went to a practice room at Spectrum and just worked through it…it was wonderful in restoring my peace of mind. I can now perform dropbacks and standups from backbend without a whole lot of fear, and once again, this is something I would never imagined doing even a couple of years ago. Steady progress does wonders for your motivation to practice more. It really is like a drug, sometimes. On the teaching front, I subbed for Ana a couple of classes at the studio, the more advanced ones, and had a great time doing it. I do like teaching a less mixed level class sometimes, and trying to get people into more advanced poses is fun.

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A Local Restaurant Goes Downhill…

by on Dec.12, 2010, under food

Sadly, we are about to say goodbye to a local restaurant which, for whatever reasons, has started sliding down the slope of good service and food. I refer in this instance to Sogo, a place I discovered last year, mostly because we would congregate there after acro-yoga practice; Vladimir was fond of it, you see, and to my slight surprise, the food was outstanding, particularly the soups. The owner/chef has some serious cooking chops, and we began to visit it for dinner and some Sunday brunches. Alas, the last few visits have revealed that the local economy is taking a toll on this establishment; first, most of the stock of market items, along with their shelving, was eliminated, leaving a cavernous dining area that scaled poorly in human terms. We noticed also at this time that the menu, which had previously changed daily, had been reduced to “regular” items, with the exception of one soup and one entree. Our last visit was also disappointing in other ways; there was no chilled white wine available at all, even though the wine refrigerator stood empty. When we ordered glasses of red wine, the food arrived quite a while before the wine; in other words, we sat there with our food while the staff, who looked like high school students, struggled to get two glasses of wine to our table, for unknown reasons. Further, there was no acknowledgment on the part of the staff about the lapse. At any rate, we may have eaten our last meal at Sogo, especially for dinner. My heart goes out to the owner; it is certainly not easy to maintain a small, cool gourmet restaurant in an area where most people define “food” as something that is obtainable at a drive-through window, and certainly the irony of having a golden arched establishment in the same strip as Sogo is not lost here. Our opinion is that poor Sogo is not long for this earth. Sad.

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Kino Macgregor Workshop

by on Dec.05, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

I took the workshop this weekend.

The first substantive portion (after the led primary, which I had to skip) was the building strength and lifting up module. Kino Macgregor has studied directly with Pahttabhi Jois, which was entertaining, since she shared some stories about Guruji. Kino has an interesting diction, which reminded me of the skateboarder/surfer Jay Adams, and made me wonder if she originated in California. She spent some time talking about the common personal excuses that we utilize in avoiding difficult poses in our yoga practice, i.e., “my arms are too short, my butt’s too big, I started too late,” to be able to jump forward and back. This is a favorite topic of mine. At any rate, she most effectively broke down the jumping forward and back process, differing slightly from Mike Matthews’ approach, who encouraged us to jump into a preliminary position with the tops of your feet to the floor, before scooting the feet forward of the hands (Kino referred to it as walking the feet forward), whereas Mike told us to pulse the hips, bringing the feet forward until they came past the hands and “kick the feet out.” In contrast, Kino spent quite some time teaching us what she called “building the foundation,” which meant placing the hands with fingers slightly digging into the mat, bringing the “ball” of the index finger deeply into the mat, rotating the eyes of the elbows in to a 45 degree angle, and emphasizing the strength of the deltoid muscles, along with bringing the spine into flexion and drawing the lower belly in. We went from all fours into plank with these cues. From there, she encouraged us to bring one foot forward, placing the top of the foot near the hands, and then the other, and walking the feet forward, straightening the legs, and then lowering the hips. I can mostly do this without instruction, so this part of the workshop was not enlightening for me, although I did enjoy the different perspective, and the emphasis on uddiyana and mula bandhas in attaining this difficult skill. Separating out all the parts seems to be Kino’s special talent in Ashtanga yoga. The part for me that needed clarification (and Kino gave it to us) in this workshop was the action of bending your arms and bringing your chest forward and down before jumping back. I attained several almost perfect jumpbacks using all of Kino’s cues, and of course, doing it once means you can, eventually, do it again, and then over and over with practice. Speaking of which, Kino mentioned that it takes about 10,000 repetitions of movements to enable familiarity within the body, so once again, we have to practice over and over. Kino also said some things that I’ve been noticing, and have previously posted here, specifically about the long horizon in yoga, the fact that beautiful-looking poses should be looked at as expressions of the amount of work and dedication involved, and that injuries result from students trying to push themselves into poses their bodies are not yet ready for. That was kind of cool, to hear someone that accomplished say what I’ve thought for awhile.

The second day was Mysore, followed by a module on backbending. I loved the Mysore in that hot, crowded, sweaty room, but I must’ve done a little too much, since I injured my left hamstring pretty severely (it’s frustrating that I can never pinpoint when I actually injure myself, apparently; it just happens, and the effects show up later). The backbending was interesting. Since I’ve been practicing with a former gymnast, Vladimir Vladev, I have gotten his instruction on backbending, and it’s slightly different than a yoga-style backbend instruction, but I’m always eager to get a different perspective, and maybe even blend some things if possible. I really liked Kino’s approach to this area, beginning again with building a foundation with tucking the tailbone and drawing the lower belly in, and lifting the stomach, ribs and chest up, creating space in the spine, and then bending the upper back. I can see that my chronic lower back pain has to do with not tucking the tailbone, and this I certainly can use in my practice. All in all, an excellent workshop, taught by an extremely accomplished and charismatic teacher. I can only imagine what my practice would look like with regular lessons from this yogini.

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Opening, and then opening more…(why does yoga hurt so much?)

by on Nov.27, 2010, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Continuing on last week’s theme of opening, I observe that much of the pain that beginners feel (and let’s not kid ourselves, as much as we try to make yoga a pain-free experience, it just isn’t, not by any stretch of the imagination) has to do, in my opinion, with the feelings of opening parts of bodies who’ve spent years behind a desk, or doing some monotonic exercise (running, weights, and don’t even mention golf!), or some other sedentary aspect of what passes for life here in industrial civilization. People spend years and years cultivating stiffness, rigidity, lack of inner strength and flexibility, and then come into a yoga class. The movements being taught there are designed to open the body and increase strength and flexibility and so of course the sudden opening of previously closed parts is painful, often excruciating. This may, in fact, be the reason that many people’s first visit to a yoga class is their last. This also suggests that there are more than one level of opening; in fact, there are multiple layers of openness, and this is echoed in the seemingly endless progression of ever-increasing levels of difficulty. I can also see from this that a lot of injuries can occur when people don’t understand this principle, and attempt to force their bodies into poses that their level of flexibility doesn’t yet allow, and realizing this brings up Pattabhi Jois’ admonition, to much clearer effect: “do your practice, and all is coming.” Of course, Guruji was Indian and his pithy aphorism must be explained to literal Americans, I suppose, but that’s my shot at an exposition.

Note: teacher training starts Monday. Should be fun and exciting. I’m looking forward to it.

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