10,000 Vinyasas

Tag: Ashtanga yoga

The Importance of Adjustments in Ashtanga Yoga

by on Jun.21, 2012, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice, Yoga Teachers

When I began my journey towards teaching yoga, the fastest and easiest way was to take a weekend teacher training course with YogaFit, a U.S. organization founded by Beth Shaw. Even at this early stage, I could perceive that this method of leaching out all the authenticity, homogenizing and dumbing down of yoga was unsatisfying to me as a budding Ashtanga practitioner. Indeed, I believe that one of the major reasons Ashtanga appeals to some people is its authenticity. At any rate, adjustments are not taught in YogaFit, or at least, not well (the rumor was that in California, you were forbidden by law to adjust students). Subsequently, however, I was fortunate enough to  attend a series of workshops on adjustments, taught by a senior Anusara instructor, and of course, I had the direct experience of my teacher’s adjustments on me. These experiences made me realize the importance of adjustments (the Anusara teacher called them “assists”) in teaching yoga in general.  I have recently been contemplating the deeper aspects of Ashtanga yoga in comparison to other styles, particularly Iyengar and its now discredited offshoot, Anusara, and the role of adjustments in poses.  In essence, adjustments in Ashtanga are an integral part of the practice and dovetail nicely with the theory of the idea that energy flow is more important than alignment in Ashtanga.  An example of this would be the pose Utittha Trikonasana, which in Ashtanga involves taking the forward hand to the foot and binding the big toe. To achieve this, students are encouraged to shorten their stance in order to lower the hand sufficiently. Over time, the student will open and be able to go more fully into the pose, but also, the teacher will adjust the student and encourage the body to feel the depth of the pose, thus contributing to the progress of going deeper. Viewed in this way, adjustments are vital to the practice of Ashtanga.  Indeed, most Ashtanga teacher training programs emphasize adjustments to a great degree (I think). When I think of the shallowness of the Yoga Fit training and the teachers who simply model poses in their classes, I appreciate the Ashtanga practice so much more.

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Practice Notes

by on Sep.18, 2011, under Acro Yoga, Yoga, Yoga injuries, Yoga practice, Yoga Teachers

Because of sweaty conditions, this morning in Lisa Long’s Mysore practice I got myself into Garbha Pindasana today without help. Couldn’t do much with it but roll backwards a few times, but still…my right knee is still preventing me from taking the full Marichyasana D, but I’m ok with that. I can usually take the full Padmasana in the correct order (right before left), but some of the other poses (Janusirsana C comes to mind) are still limited. I am looking forward to studying with Manju Jois, a teacher my original teacher referenced many times.  Further progress is also noted in acro-yoga, where my kickovers without help are more consistent.  Hoping to take more of Mike Matthews in the near future.  An odd event:  my attendance at Mysore the other day resulted in my being given a number of Second Series poses.  I have to wonder about that;  I don’t feel that I’ve  “mastered” Primary Series, although I grant that I can do a passable version of most of the poses.  So, what really is the standard for moving on, I wonder?

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Really Fun Practice!

by on Sep.05, 2011, under teaching, Yoga, Yoga practice

Ok, I’ve done this once before, when the gym I teach at had no yoga classes on a holiday (4th of July), and after hearing my students lamenting that fact, I came up with the idea of an informal practice, where I would go through much of Primary Series, not teach but just call out the names of the poses and those who showed up would just follow along.  That worked well, and after detecting some similar interest on Sunday for Labor Day, I decided to repeat it. I had 6 show up this morning, one a woman who brought her young daughter who’d never practiced yoga, and we went through my “basic” practice, which is Suryanamascara A/B, all the standing poses, paschimottanasana, purvattanasana, and then skip to setu bandasana, backbends, and then the closing sequence, which takes about 55 minutes.  I had a great time, and I think my students did too.  I am inspired by my students enthusiasm and their willingness to keep practicing; another benefit of teaching I would have never experienced had I not taken that leap forward 2 1/2 years ago.  It’s difficult to find the words to adequately describe the amazement and fulfillment I experience both from the practice itself, and the teaching and all the other experiences which seem to spontaneously come from it.

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Injury Update

by on Sep.03, 2011, under Acro Yoga, teaching, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga injuries, Yoga practice

I think the shoulder is completely healed, a combination of rehabilitation (Airrosti) and me being careful in practice.  At any rate, we did 3 kickovers in a row at acro today without issue, and I believe it’s time to move on.  Anticipating tomorrow’s practice with hope and enthusiasm. A death in the family this week caused me to miss some practice, and I was especially glad to get back to it; it feels like your body truly needs this and suffers when it is not available. Teaching notes:  I am starting my fourth weekly class tomorrow, and intend for it to be a more vinyasa-style class, in the vein of what my original teacher used to teach.  I continue to sub a different class at least once a week, which keeps things fresh and at the same time makes me appreciate my “regulars.”  One of the unanticipated pleasures of teaching is watching people make progress.  I imagine some of them may not even notice the slow but steady progress, but when you look at the group as a whole and compare them to the students in a subbed class, the difference is noticeable.

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The Return To Practice…

by on Aug.28, 2011, under Acro Yoga, teaching, Yoga, Yoga injuries, Yoga practice

Well, I was kind of joking a few posts ago about the “sweatiest practice ever,” but I think yesterday’s return to my Saturday led Primary Series really was, in fact, if not the sweatiest, then certainly up in the top three. Also noted that this practice was done on perhaps the hottest day of the year here. At any rate, brought one of my students along to help him experience a different teacher and environment; he acquitted himself well.  My shoulder has almost completely healed, and I did not aggravate it yesterday by jumping back (I am doing this with more awareness now, so I think we can continue without fear of further injury). I had missed the led Primary class quite a bit, and despite some normal difficulties, got through it with a sense of serenity and peacefulness.  Looking forward to getting back into more practice, although I may have to attend to my “other” job more than usual this week. In other news, I have picked up a new class at the gym on Saturday mornings, and am scheduled to sub for a teacher at the gymnastics center not far from the house.  Acro has been going well, also (pictures to be posted).

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Sweatiest. Practice. Ever. (Progress in Practice)

by on Jul.30, 2011, under Yoga, Yoga practice

Ok, not really, probably. I’ve done a few really sweaty practices before, and I don’t have the memory to rate them, but today’s was pretty, as Lisa said, “tropical.” On the other hand, I had a small breakthrough this week when I was able, for the first time, to get my feet into supta padmasana without the use of my hands. And then I did it again, today, in practice. Yay! These tiny advances really do give you encouragement, even though you realize that the achievement isn’t the point. Still, I think sometimes that even a little encouragement like this goes a long way. At this morning’s practice, I was next to a woman who had never done Primary Series, and I think it gave me a little bit of extra energy imagining her first experience, remembering what mine was like. Unfortunately, it’s a “two steps forward, one step back” thing, because I also tweaked my good knee pretty hard, again, frustratingly, apparently without trying. Oh well.

Further reflection on Uttitha Hasta Padangustasana: I think I posted this entry in part to become more comfortable with my unease and frustration with the pose, and thus make some of the negative energy dissipate. I hope that makes sense.

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Teaching The Primary Series

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

As mentioned, this week I was called upon to teach Primary Series twice for the very first time in my teaching career. As is true with my entire teaching experience, I found it difficult and rewarding. I have previously posted on the difference between counting the breaths and using descriptive words in teaching Ashtanga, and this week offered an opportunity to explore that. My first class was rather, well, like my first teaching experience: nervous and excited, but with some confidence that I could translate the knowledge I had to my students. After all, I have been teaching a modified version of Primary Series for quite some time, so I only had to add the rest of the series. Of course, I was somewhat awkward in my verbiage with these “new” poses, but everything seemed to work out well–I only forgot a couple. My second try was better. Ten people showed up, some of whom were obviously inexperienced, but they all stayed until the end. I also tried to add in the traditional elements of the led Primary that I have been taking recently, even chanting the opening and closing mantras, even though that is not often done at the gym (for fear of offending those who think we are trying to convert them to the “religion” of yoga). Of course, my counting is far from perfect and I need more experience in counting in Sanskrit beyond Suryanamascara A and B, but overall, it was great fun. I was quite impressed with the students who were new or had limited abilities continuing the class until the end, remembering clearly how ferociously difficult I found the Primary Series when I first encountered it. At any rate, I will be looking for more opportunities to teach Primary in the future. As always, I must express my gratitude to my many teachers who have given of themselves and conveyed their knowledge and skill to my great benefit.

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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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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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Progress in Yoga Practice

by on Nov.05, 2010, under Acro Yoga, Yoga, Yoga practice

My drop-backs and stand-ups into backbend are becoming more and more consistent, to the point that Vladimir remarked the other day that I really didn’t need him to assist me anymore…yay! I’m still not as confident as I’d like to be, but the intensive practice has really made a difference. My splits are all the way to the floor, at least on my right side, and some days, on my left. How this could happen is quite beyond me, but there you go. I’m loving my yoga practice a whole lot these days. In addition, I’ve really gotten the hang of jumping forwards and back (it’s called lifting the hips up high in the air as you jump forward), and I’m working on smoothing that out as much as I can. Pursuing this further, I’m trying to bring grace and deliberateness to my practice, especially Suryanamascar. Tomorrow I’ll be practicing at San Antonio Yoga with Lisa Long, someone I’ve wanted to take more classes from, but her schedule is not conducive. Anyway, that’s all the news that’s fit to print.

(Update) Had a most enjoyable Primary Series practice with Lisa on Saturday. I suppose the temperature had something to do with it; it was warm enough to sweat, but not hot enough to cause me to start paying too much attention to it. My stress level decreases drastically when I have a more optimum temperature, something I do believe I’ve remarked about before. Oh, yes, and Lisa was wonderful…

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