10,000 Vinyasas

Tag: Yoga

Mysore With Manju

by on Oct.19, 2011, under Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga practice, Yoga Teachers

“Left goes first”

This was the only thing Manju said to me in my first Mysore practice.  He was talking about binding in bada padmasana; I guess I had been doing it wrong for quite some time, mostly since my padmasana is currently reversed due to knee pain and also probably because I can do it easier that way and no one had corrected me.  I had arrived in the beautiful beach town of Encinitas of the day before, and I was at the end of my first practice. It was so exciting to practice at the Jois Yoga Center and I had had no idea what to expect, so I arrived about 15 minutes early that first day.  I was surprised to find just two people practicing, with a woman (Amy?) helping them. Mysore style.  They were obviously close to finishing, and Manju had not yet appeared.  At the appointed time, 7:00 a.m., I began my Primary Series practice.

Manju appears

Of course, I abandoned my dristhi temporarily when Manju entered the practice room a couple of minutes later.  I was surprised to discover that he was quite short and slight; for some reason, I assumed, probably from pictures, that he was larger and bulkier.  I continued Suryanamascara; Manju fiddled with the CD player and put on a selection of Indian chanting, which played throughout the days of practice that I was there.


The Practice

I have been practicing Primary Series for quite some time; I’m familiar with the sequence and have a self-practice several times a week, if not every day.  Recently, I began working through the first several poses of Intermediate Series in my weekly Mysore practice.  The first day in Encinitas, I was a bit intimidated and didn’t know what to expect, so I limited myself to just Primary Series, although I went as slow and controlled as possible, leaving out dropbacks into backbend as well.  The second day, I did the full practice including my Intermediate Series poses as well as dropbacks.  I currently find this regimen completely exhausting, so I alternated days of lengthier practice with ones of just Primary Series. This worked out well in Encinitas.


The first time Manju adjusted me was in Trikonasana; he slightly opened my hip with a subtle adjustment.  The other two standing poses I received assistance with was Parshvottanasana, in which he pushed me further down towards my leg (this is not a common adjustment, in my experience), and Prasarita Podottanasana C, in which he pulled my hands closer to the mat (which is quite common).  Overall, the most adjustments I got were in the seated poses Triagmukha Eka Pada Paschimottanasana, Ardha Badha Padma Paschimottanasana, Janusirsana A, Marichyasana A, B (not D or C), and of course, Paschimottanasana.  This is very unusual, in my experience; few teachers consistently adjust students in these poses.  Manju’s adjustments also demonstrated to me how much deeper I could go with a bit of help; this, of course, was exactly what I was hoping for when I journeyed to Encinitas: an intensification of my practice. Oh, and  Manju also pulled my chest up in Bhekasana and put my hands to my feet (for the first time!) in Kapotasana. I felt somewhat more “official” after these Intermediate Series adjustments. Other adjustments occurred in Supta Kurmasana(placed feet behind head), Baddha Konasana A (pushed down), and Ubhaya Padagustasana and Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (both of which I frankly stink at, and really need some support to fully express the poses).  The only other instruction I got from Manju was to bring my feet closer in Adho Mukha Svanasana, which I have gotten before from Nancy Gilgoff (and is in direct contradiction to Tim Miller’s instruction to me to lengthen my stance here).

What Wasn’t There

What I found even more interesting than Manju’s adjustments were the poses he didn’t adjust.  He adjusted nobody in Uttitha Hasta Padagustasana, which I found completely surprising, since many people, not just me, find it difficult and need more help.  I have noted already the few standing poses Manju adjusted me in, and in looking around, I noticed that those were the only ones he helped many others with as well.  Another surprise:  he did not push anyone deeper in Adho Mukha Svanasana, which is perhaps the most common Ashtanga adjustment ever.   He did help a number of people (but not me) in dropbacks, using a cloth he kept wrapped around his waist to pull students up.  Adjustments can be strenuous for a teacher, and I wondered if Manju’s age had anything to do with the absence of certain adjustments.

The End

I was completely satisfied with my trip to Encinitas and my study with Manju Jois. The practice was solid and satisfying; I noticed small but visible improvements and more awareness and concentration in my practice than I have ever felt before.  If anything, the trip deepened my love and fascination for Ashtanga yoga, and before the trip was even halfway through, I caught myself thinking about when I could return.  

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No More Saturday Vinyasa

by on Nov.02, 2010, under teaching, Yoga

Well, my brief tenure as the Saturday morning vinyasa teacher at Yoga Shala has come to an end. Attendance varied, but was in the low numbers most of the time, and the owner wants to start a new class at the same time, so there you are. I am trying not to bring my ego into my teaching, which of course is sometimes difficult, but it isn’t in this case, particularly. My teaching schedule is pretty full already, and I’ve been doing it long enough to feel some confidence that it wasn’t my abilities that caused this change, so on the whole, I’m not unhappy with this latest development. I also recognize that there are many things that one shouldn’t try to control, and my yoga practice and teaching fall into this category. So, I am now free to practice or do something else on Saturday mornings. Perhaps I will use this time to explore other teachers or areas of yoga, and then of course I have teacher training coming up.

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Yoga Update

by on Dec.22, 2009, under Acro Yoga, Yoga

Well, this month has been very bad, in terms of misfortune to myself and the people that we know. However, we realize in these situations that yoga serves as a lifeline to those afflicted with stress and life changing events. Many thanks to all my friends, who also made things easier, oftentimes merely by just their presence. I’ve been keeping up with Acro-Yoga as best I can, and I am again impressed with the amazing physical workout it offers, as well as the calming influence afterwards. I’ve also deepened my yoga practice (my physical abilities have improved somewhat, see Acro, above) but the meditative aspects of yoga have been revealing themselves to me more lately. My latest ambition is to take Tim Miller’s Ashtanga teacher training in July in Encinitas, CA. I will be taking his workshop here in March, and I expect to make a decision shortly after. Here’s hoping for a much better, wiser, happier, and more prosperous new year!

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Yoga Update

by on Nov.04, 2009, under Acro Yoga, Yoga

My knee has been deemed safe to practice, although it still hurts when I take it to lotus, and my right rotator cuff injury, which I haven’t mentioned until now, has started healing with the help of daily exercises, and I’ve continued to enjoy my acro-yoga practice. My progress so far: my handstand has gotten slightly better, my kickovers from backbend have gotten much better, and I’ve started practicing scorpion from headstand. Nice…the practice is intense and demanding, which is what I normally like in my exercise. I subbed quite a few classes last week, and really enjoyed that. My teaching has gotten much better, at least in my own eyes. I have a number of people who come to my classes with regularity, which is quite nice, but it’s also fun to teach to people who aren’t familiar with your own style. And that’s the news thats fit to print…

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Once Again…

by on Oct.14, 2009, under Acro Yoga, Yoga

Well, here’s something I though would never happen...I appeared on a local television show and did some yoga. Considering that I’m coming up on my third anniversary of practicing yoga, this is something that really made me stop and think. How did I get here? I think that, and this is kinda funny because the rest of my life has always been so planned, so cautious, so little to do with my feelings and instincts, yoga has taken me in a direction I never thought possible, and the interesting thing is, I’m not in control of it at all. I just do whatever feels right, and things like Wednesday just kinda happen.

Practice notes: attended Ken’s Eight Limbs in Eight Hours (awesome title!) workshop on Sunday, which included the full primary series. I had forgotten how rigorous and thorough this practice is, since it’s been a few months since I did it, and oh did my knee hurt afterwards. Guess I’m not ready quite yet. Have been attending Acro-Yoga (yeah, like you couldn’t tell) and really still enjoying the physical challenge of it, as well as the warmth and closeness of the people involved (they are very very supportive, which is so nice when you’re doing extreme physical activities). Hats off to my friends!

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A Powerful Class

by on Jun.10, 2009, under Yoga

One of my recent classes achieved an attendance of nineteen people. Quite a record for my teaching so far, and an energy level I had not encountered before. I was very active, running around the room and adjusting people, as well as giving directions. I got some favorable comments as well, so the energy from these carried me for quite awhile. I am beginning to realize that I do have something to offer as a teacher of yoga; helping people is quite gratifying and very much in the spirit of yoga. Not really sure if I would actually be informed if people were complaining; either I’ve not gotten negative comments, people who would’ve done so are voting with their feet, or negative comments are not shared with fitness instructors as a matter of policy at the gym I’m teaching at. I did overhear some comparisons to the way other teachers phrased some things (yes, again, the bad yoga teacher), so I suppose I’m going over well so far.

On the injury front, I visited a yoga studio today whose owner is a physical therapist. My knee, apparently, just has some bursitis, and will take a long time to heal, but she gave me some hints that will help rehabilitate it. Added Nydia’s Yoga Therapy to the blogroll.

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A New Challenge

by on May.05, 2009, under Yoga

Well, I’ve done it again, I suppose; volunteered to take up a class that had a longtime teacher, who taught in a most idiosyncratic manner, and one vastly different than mine (or, all the yoga teachers I’ve experienced). I had no hesitation in raising my hand to teach this class, since it was at a perfect time and place for me, and resulted in a free gym membership (you need to be teaching three classes to qualify). I attended the class last weekend and to say it was different is to understate it by a mile. Ab work, no vinyasa flow to speak of, some really odd placement of poses (e.g., headstand after barely warming up), and just a lack of intensity to the whole thing. 75 minutes long, but I never broke out into a sweat, which for me, is quite unusual (I sweat more than anyone in any class). I have to admit, I’m really kind of puzzled as to how to begin with this class. They obviously loved their former teacher (they had a small reception afterwards to honor her last day), but my sense was that it was one of those classes that had stagnated since the instructor had no compulsion to make any progress with them. Just a guess on my part. I’d really like to get off to a good start with this class, which means honoring the experience they had with their prior teacher, but at the same time taking them in a different direction (I pretty much have to, I can’t teach what I saw on Sunday). A delicate balance, and one that will require some more thought, I’m sure.
(Update) After teaching this first class, I feel somewhat better. I did sense some resistance at the new “format,” but I thought overall, it went well. Resistance to change is to be expected; we all have trouble with it. Yoga provides us with a method of dealing with change. Being present at every moment helps. I’m generally feeling more and more comfortable with teaching, although yesterday’s improv promotion at the local gym caused a few moments of panic, when I realized that I had much more time than I thought. Oh well.

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Things Not To Say When Teaching…

by on Apr.25, 2009, under Yoga

Here’s a couple I heard in a class last weekend (and no, I’m not making this up):

“Lock the knee”
“Do this exercise every day until we see each other again. If you don’t want to do this, maybe you should find another yoga teacher.”

Pretty cool, huh? The first suggestion increases the chance of injury, the second is just flat out hostile, demanding and intimidating, all at once. This actually gives me hope that I will be an ok teacher, if only because I’d never contemplate saying stuff like this…

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The Yoga Wheel: Two Teachers

by on Apr.23, 2009, under Yoga

Tonight, I had the opportunity to sub for my first yoga teacher. It was an incredibly satisfying experience, more so because it made me completely appreciate how much I’ve progressed in the last 2 1/2 years, and also, because, of course, it just seemed so symmetrical, like I had returned to the beginning. I was first encouraged to try yoga through the recommendation of someone in a cardio class I was attending (and still attend), and this teacher’s gentle, low-key approach was the ideal way for me to start, given that I had very little ability in yoga. As I’ve said before, yoga has a way of making you quite aware of your shortcomings, and I did have many. At first, I was satisfied to complete one yoga class per week, but after a few months, I began trying other classes, and making more progress. After my first power yoga class, I remember thinking that I could really become strong if I kept going once a week…how little did I know. I actually “outgrew” that class later on, and in my search for more intensity, came upon Ashtanga, which to me was the most fearsome and forbidding style I could practice. I was lucky, I think, to connect with a teacher who presented the style in a very non-threatening and accessible manner; as we know, not all teachers are suited for conveying this style to beginners. Of course, the benefits of practicing Ashtanga are now clearer to me: it makes you very strong, very flexible, and you begin to glimpse the power and the serenity of yoga. It inspires you to continue to practice and learn. I am so grateful to my teachers of yoga; I’m sure this sounds maudlin and ordinary but it is not. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that yoga has multiple levels, mentally, physically, and even perhaps spiritually, and these are revealed through time and effort. Once again, namaste!

Ps. I should also mention that one of my peak experiences in yoga has been when I persuaded my first yoga teacher to attend my Ashtanga teacher’s class. A strange quirk in space and time allowed the two to be facing each other, with me observing closely on the side…it was, well, interesting.

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Teaching Ashtanga

by on Apr.16, 2009, under Yoga

As you may know, I’ve been practicing Ashtanga yoga once a week for over a year now. My first teaching experience at the local gym got listed on the schedule as Ashtanga, for some reason (I haven’t inquired why), and it caused me to reflect on the difficulty of introducing this style to beginners. An ancient style of yoga, Ashtanga was originally developed, in my understanding, for teenagers, and this is probably true, since it is a physically demanding, aggressive style that requires quite a bit of flexibility and strength. Hence, the difficulty of introducing it to adults who are new to yoga, and indeed, may not be in the best physical condition to begin with. In the first series (primary series), there are multiple poses and multiple variations of poses, particularly seated forward bends and twists, along with standing balance poses of ferocious difficulty, headstands, backbends and binds, interspersed with vinyasas requiring jumping into seated and jumping back into chaturanga. Some poses require full lotus to fully attain, and really can’t be modified to include a beginner’s more limited range. The other day, I asked my Ashtanga teacher how to teach beginners in the style. His response was that there were, in fact, two different schools of thought. The traditional way was to start at the beginning of primary series, and stop when a pose could not be achieved, work on that one until mastery, and then proceed to the next one. The second approach was to work out a modified set of poses from the primary series and build up strength until more poses could be added. In my opinion, the first method is actually more suited for a traditional yoga environment (a studio or ashram) where, by self-selection, you have a group of highly motivated students who are not going to be discouraged by the repetition and difficulty at the beginning. In teaching at a gym, in contrast, students are not as motivated, overall, to keep trying to attain proficiency in a style which may appear forbiddingly difficult at first. It’s this reasoning which led me to adopt the second approach in teaching my first class. I had seen firsthand the unsuitability of trying to force a fast paced aggressive style on a beginning mixed level class, and I thought I could design a routine which would incorporate the spirit of the primary series while allowing someone who had little or no experience with yoga to be successful. So far, I’ve gotten good feedback on this approach, so I suppose I would call it a qualified success in the environment I’m teaching in.

More yoga notes: I bit off more than I could chew this week, by agreeing to sub for someone the day after I had a trial setting. 99% of the time these settings don’t go anywhere, but this time I ended up having to start the trial and had to get a sub for the class I had agreed to teach. It was quite stressful to deal with both of these situations at the same time, but I did find another sub at the last minute. I’m eager to get more teaching experience now that I have a more demanding power yoga class to teach–the expectations are a little higher. Been hearing better things about the bad yoga teacher, so maybe all the feedback she’s gotten has caused her to change…perhaps I was too quick to judge.
Update (4/18/2009) Was able, for the first time, to achieve PINCHA MAYURASANA (headstand with forearms to floor) at the wall, just for a few seconds, but still…progress. In the mail today also was a check for teaching my first two yoga classes–an entire $46.00. Of course, the money is really kind of irrelevant; I’m doing this for love of yoga, not money.

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Yoga Update (Peaceful Fulfillment)

by on Apr.07, 2009, under Yoga

Couple of new items in my progress as a student and teacher of yoga: a couple of folks at the Ashtanga studio where I study made some remarks over the weekend about me teaching there some day. Since I have the utmost respect for the the teachers at the Shala, this is a high compliment indeed. I am also on tap for teaching another yoga class at the local gym–the one I substituted at last week. I found it a little daunting, since it was a more advanced class (still mixed level, to some degree) and some of the students were skilled practitioners whom I’ve practiced with, so, a tough audience. I must’ve acquitted myself well then.

On a more physical front, I’m really feeling the power and serenity of a strong breath during my practice. I’ve heard people say something like “the breath will lead you through the poses,” but its another thing entirely to really feel it, like I’ve been doing lately. Perhaps it is a milestone, or just an isolated phenomenon; I’m not trying to analyze it…I’m just enjoying the feeling and being fully present at that moment.

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The First Yoga Class

by on Mar.26, 2009, under Yoga

Well, this is certainly a milestone. I never would have imagined, in my wildest dreams, that two and a half years ago I would now be teaching yoga. In fact, yoga, quietly but firmly, took over a great deal of my exercise life since then. I ran long distances for many years, participating in many races, did a few short triathlons, completed four marathons, swam, biked, worked out with weights, kickboxed (ok, I still do that), but yoga was a vast unknown to me when I started. And did I ever have “disabilities” when I began practicing yoga–no flexibility, balance, little core strength, and more. Yoga is humbling, in that it lets you know your body’s limitations quite early and often. You can work to overcome these, and sometimes you can make little or lots of progress, but it’s still something you never finish; there’s always a more difficult pose or variation, and your body resists your efforts to attain perfection. That, in fact, is what makes yoga such a lifetime practice. I can see now that one of the attractions of yoga to me is that it allows you to do things that you never imagined you could. Over and over again (this means not the same poses, but different ones). Now, I have the opportunity to teach other people some of the things I’ve learned.

My first class: had five people, two of whom had never done yoga before, was harder than I realized (worked up a sweat), was not perfect (not nearly), had some great moments (and some less great), and overall, was a success. I have a good time slot (5:30 in the afternoon), and although some of the other aspects are not ideal (well, we’re in a gym, after all; some pounding on the walls from the cardio class next door is inevitable), I think this will be a good start. Still having some difficulty finding the correct words to put people in the poses, but I’m sure that will improve with more practice.


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A Hint From Charly Privert…

by on Mar.17, 2009, under Yoga

I took an Anusara workshop this weekend (ok, half a workshop), from the most estimable Charly Privert and afterwards he gave me a strategy to try and overcome my extensive balance problems (I suck at standing balance poses like standing big toe, tree, dancer, pretty much any you can think of). Essentially, my feet are flat (inner arches don’t really, um, arch), I need to properly align my feet forward and directly above my hips and develop my inner and outer calve muscles to support my feet. At least, I think that was the gist of it. Leave it to Anusara, the style which considers alignment and position above all, to bring me this lesson. There’s always something to work on in yoga (besides designing my first class).

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The Bad Yoga Teacher

by on Mar.13, 2009, under Yoga

messageartwork20091When I started expanding my yoga practice by attending more classes, taught by different teachers, I benefited from a wider range of teaching styles and yoga philosophies. I used to think, optimistically, that I could derive some value from every yoga teacher. Alas, but predictably, there came a time when I began to be more discriminating in my perceptions of quality in yoga teaching; differences, however, were still mostly tolerable. Not everyone will benefit from every yoga teacher, and you naturally tend to gravitate towards whomever appeals to you most, whether in philosophy, style, or demeanor. Of course, there is also the Indian concept of finding a guru who can lead you through your yoga experiences. I’d make a distinction, though, between the teacher whose style is different than what you prefer or are used to, and an outright poor yoga teacher in general. It’s been an interesting experience, of late, to have observed such a bad yoga teacher in action. I had not attended this particular individuals class until recently, but when she began teaching at a local gym I began to hear people I practiced with commenting negatively on her teaching. It seemed that she tended to push people until they injured themselves, was the gist of the complaints i was hearing. Another instructor made a face when mentioning her, and said something to the effect that “she won’t last.” I didn’t know what she meant at the time, and still didn’t until she was assigned several more classes at another branch of the gym and I attended her class. I immediately understood what that instructor meant: a negative energy emanated from this woman; although she said the words I was accustomed to hearing in a yoga class, her demeanor was aggressive and demanding rather than calm and reassuring. True to the complaints, she did push people into positions that they may not have been ready for. One other thing I noticed that was unique to this person: she tended to complain to the class about certain aspects of teaching at the gym, i.e., she wanted to teach a longer class, the gym wouldn’t allow her to teach head or handstands, etc. Not only were these comments inappropriate to make to students, I found them unprofessional and most certainly unyogalike. As it turned out, she actually reportedly caused the injury of a student, who came to class complaining of back pain, by attempting to lift the student out of a backbend into standing. More complaints from students to the management resulted in this individual losing at least one of her classes at that gym. After experiencing the bad yoga teacher, I want to tell my students, when I start teaching, not to let me or any other instructor ever try to take them somewhere their bodies don’t want to go. Not complaining to my students really should go unsaid….

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The Advantage of Yoga

by on Mar.11, 2009, under Yoga

It occurred to me today that, thanks to my yoga practice, I’ve never in my entire life been this strong and flexible. I mean, for goodness sakes, I’m 48 years old, and my muscle definition is unbelievable, at least to me, and of course, I’ve had extensive experience looking at myself in the mirror. Then I think about the workshop I attended a few weeks ago led by a 61 year old man, who had practiced yoga for 35+ years; his strength was several magnitudes greater than mine. This isn’t a comparision (remember, there are no judgments or competition in yoga, unless you practice Bikram), but rather an illustration of the possibilities of the benefits of yoga. Of course, there’s much more to yoga than just physical strength and flexibility, but those are what most people readily perceive. Yoga was originally developed (in my understanding) to allow one to meditate in a sitting position for many hours at a time without distractions from a poorly conditioned body, and as physical and mental exercise, it’s excellent (obviously, I’m somewhat biased here, but it’s a bias developed after engaging in many other physical activities for many years and choosing yoga, to some extent, over these previous ones).

Milestone: today I received something I hadn’t gotten in over 20 years: a job application…to teach yoga at local gym. After the inevitable background check, my career (hah!) in yoga teaching will begin. Let’s take that to wherver it goes…

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The Yoga Way

by on Dec.31, 2008, under Yoga

Here’s where we all aspire to get to, supposedly, in yoga (I stole this from the Anasura site, but the principles are not unique to that style).

Classical Ethical Guidelines
Yamas: (Behavior restraints.) Ethical guidelines for the yogi pertaining to her relationship with others in society, the outer environment, or Nature. All the yamas
apply to actions, words, and thoughts.
Ahimsa (Non-harming): Loving kindness to others, not blocking or obstructing the flow of Nature, compassion, mercy, gentleness.
Satya (Truthfulness): Being genuine and authentic to our inner nature having integrity, honesty, being honorable, not lying, not concealing the
truth, not downplaying or exaggerating. Truthfulness.
Asteya (Non-stealing): Not taking what is not yours—money, goods, or credit. Not robbing people of their own experiences and freedom. Non-
desire for another’s possessions, qualities, or status. Non-stealing.
Brahmacharya (Walking or having ethical conduct like God): Relating to another with unconditional love and integrity, without selfishness or
manipulation. Practicing sexual moderation, restraining from sexual misconduct, and avoiding lustful behavior. Celibacy/chastity.

Aparigraha (Non-clinging): Non-grasping, non-receiving, non-possessiveness, voluntary simplicity, not accumulating things beyond what is necessary, non-attachment to possessions, greedlessness. Non-covetousness.

Niyamas : (Internal-restraints): Ethical guidelines for the yogi pertaining to her daily activities. Observances of one’s own physical appearance, actions, words and thoughts.

Shauca (Purity): Cleanliness, orderliness, precision, clarity, balance.

Internal and external purification. Cleanliness.

Santosa (Contentment): Equanimity, peace, tranquility, acceptance of the way things are. Contentment.

Food for thought…

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Teaching the Yoga Class

by on Dec.29, 2008, under Yoga

Went to a yoga class the other day, and the instructor didn’t show up (rather, the substitute didn’t show up).  This happened once last year, and the same thing occured: I ended up leading the class.  I did notice that my Ashtanga training came in handy this time, because I went through the first sequence of the primary series (at least, what I could remember) and then went into some other, less connected poses, while trying to choose ones that my three fellow classmates could handle.  A most valuable experience, since my teacher training starts in January. I did feel much more “professional” this time—thanks, Ken. Next, I need to work up a series of classes to give me a better idea on how to structure an hour of yoga.

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First Post: The Introduction

by on Dec.19, 2008, under Uncategorized

10000 Vinyasas is my attempt to record my progress in yoga (practice and teaching), recipes I find or improvise, ideas on improving and simplifying one’s diet, food and wine in general, gardening and various other ways to ease the way down the slope of declining industrial civilization, which is assumed on this blog and not discussed. (If you’d like to explore the whys and wherefores of this, head on over to the Edge of Chaos, listed in the blogroll).

With food,my influences are Michael Pollan (The Omivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food) and Gary Taubes (Good Calories, Bad Calories).

In yoga, I’ve been studying Ashtanga, although I’ve practiced Anusara and practice Power Yoga several times a week.

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