iyac-rope-sirsasanaInverted poses are important in Iyengar yoga. Senior practitioners often cite an inversion as their most essential pose. (Sarvangasana (shoulderstand) seems to be a favorite.) Can anyone do inversions? General contraindications include spinal disorders, hypertension, and glaucoma. Recently, however, I’ve met yoga students with glaucoma who do brief inversions with the approval of their ophthalmologists. Hmm…

Around the same time, I read a PLOS ONE study published in December 2015 that measured intraocular pressure (IOP) in 10 subjects with primary open-angle glaucoma and 10 normal subjects during the following poses, each done for two minutes: Adho Mukha Svanasana, Uttanasana, Halasana, Viparita Karani. The researchers opted not to study Sirsasana (headstand) to see if less-inverted poses also affect IOP.

4posesIn both normal and glaucoma subjects, the following occurred:

  • IOP increased in all non-upright body positions. Pressures increased within one or two minutes after entering a pose. Likewise they returned to baseline values a few minutes after exiting the pose. (The prompt “return to baseline” is apparently one reason why ophthalmologists allow glaucoma patients to do inversions.)
  • IOP change is directly related to body angle from upright to inverted.
  • Among the four study poses, Adho Mukha Svanasana caused the greatest increase, followed by Uttanasana, Halasana, and Viparita Karani.
  • IOP remains elevated while non-upright position is maintained.
  • Glaucoma subjects did not show more severe IOP increases than normal subjects. Both groups showed a rise in IOP between 6-11 mmHg.

Note: Limitations of this study include small sample size, short pose duration, no measurement of blood pressure, and age variation between glaucoma and normal groups.

What the study could not (and did not) answer: Are temporary IOP increases safe for glaucoma patients?

I solicited my own eye doc’s opinion, and he was wary of inversions for glaucoma patients. He prefers not to take chances with possible optic nerve damage. A few minutes of elevated pressure day after day, he hypothesized, adds up over the years. Loren Fishman, MD, a longtime Iyengar yoga practitioner, also advises glaucoma patients to weigh the risks of increasing IOP during inversions. In a 2013 New York Times interview, he said, ” I believe headstand and handstand are contraindicated by wide angle and narrow angle glaucoma.”

glaucoma-diagramIn a self-administered study, he, then a 67-year-old male without glaucoma, held Salamba Sirsasana and variations for 21 minutes. During this time, his IOP doubled from a 14-15 mmHg baseline to an average of 31-34 mmHg during the next 20 minutes of variations. (Personally I was reassured that IOP stabilizes during a long headstand rather than creeping higher and higher.)

He found a similar 100% increase in Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand) to 31-34 mmHg, but much smaller increases in Sarvangasana to 16-22 mmHg and in Halasana to 17-18 mmHg. Viparita Karani was measured at 12-14 mmHg, so IOP was stable and even dropped slightly.

He concluded that Sirsasana causes significant IOP elevation, but that IOP returns to normal once upright. For him–and for those without glaucoma–this temporary rise in pressure seems reasonably safe. There’s no proof otherwise, anyway.

But neither he nor the recent researchers make a recommendation either way for those with glaucoma. Perhaps, if glaucoma is managed with drugs or surgery, it doesn’t preclude inversions (or other poses that increase IOP). For those who don’t know they have glaucoma, however, increasing IOP above their already-high IOP might indeed damage the optic nerve.

What poses could you give up?

Ultimately the decision–whether or not to invert–depends on the individual. How risk tolerant or averse are you? What are you willing to continue or to give up, in the face of health risk?

In terms of yoga asana, how much would you miss Sirsasana and other inversions if you had to give them up? While headstand is fundamental to my practice, there are myriad poses and even I, a creature of habit, could adapt to a no-headstand practice. It would be harder for me to give up Adho Mukha Svanasana. In any case, we must remember that yoga is more than poses–and avoid becoming dependent on any pose or habit or way of living.

Images: Rope Sirsasana, Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada; study poses, PLOS ONE; glaucoma, London Eye Specialists

Acknowledgment: Thanks to WC Sin for sending me the PLOS One article that inspired this post.


Always something blooming in my mom’s hibiscus collection.

1. A Hilo downpour

There’s nothing like falling asleep to the loud drumbeat of a Hilo rainstorm. In a downpour, you’d be soaked in a minute. When I moved to Vancouver, I was a bit disappointed with the misty drizzle, blowing into my face and frizzing my hair, lacking the satisfaction of palpable pounding raindrops. Since Hilo’s average annual rainfall is 130 inches, people assume that it’s raining all the time. But Hilo’s showers alternate with brilliant sunshine. Big rain, big sun. No wishy-washy weather here.

2. Using the human bank teller

Living on the mainland, I use ATMs almost exclusively. In Hilo, I wait in line with my mom at her bank. She’s not the only one. Locals seem to use human tellers more than ATMs. They prefer the face-to-face interaction–Good morning! May I see your ID? Have a nice day!–and trust humans more than machines.

Taro Pineapple

Among my dad’s edible plants are taro and pineapple.

3. Local fruit

Sure, you can buy tropical fruits worldwide. But there’s something different about Kapoho Solo papayas, sweet-tart apple bananas, mellow white pineapples, and local varieties of mangoes, mountain apples, and avocados. You also can’t beat the prices: five papayas for two bucks (if you know where to look).

4. Active volcano

Kilauea Volcano, located on the eastern side of the island, has been erupting nonstop since 1983. Often, the molten lava flows underground into the sea, invisible. When a flow shifts and becomes visible from land–occasionally threatening homes and towns–the eruption hits the front page and reminds us that we’re living on an active volcano.


Dendrobiums practically grow wild in Hilo.

5. The thank-you wave

In Hilo, if I let another driver pass ahead of me, I always receive a thank-you wave. It might be the local shaka sign or a simple wave of the hand. Either way, it’s a given. While I love my current city, Vancouver, I’m too-often disappointed when I let another driver pass and receive no acknowledgment. I miss that momentary connection between one stranger and another.

6. Mosquitoes

Growing up in Hilo, I had a tolerance for mosquito bites. Once I moved away, I lost my tolerance and now, if bitten, my immune system triggers those irritating red welts. When the Big Island had a temporary outbreak of dengue fever last fall and winter, I was dismayed. If I could change one thing about Hawaii, I would banish all mosquitoes.

Hapuu Anthurium

Pebble footpaths lead through native hapu‘u ferns and anthuriums.

7. Coqui frogs sounds

Originally from Puerto Rico, coqui frogs arrived on the Big Island in the 1990s (apparently by way of potted plants from Florida). This invasive species is now ubiquitous on the island. After dark, they emit a distinctive loud call. From my bedroom window, I can hear a few in the backyard. With earplugs, they don’t bother me much. But it is always catastrophic when invasive species proliferate and upset the Hawaiian ecosystem.

8. Trade winds

On the best days in Hilo, my hometown, the trades are vigorous and constant. Open a window and–whoosh!–in comes the breeze like long, cool drink. Since the sun is shining and temperature warm (daytime highs around 80ºF/26ºC), the winds are refreshing rather than chilly.

9. Slowed-down time

I can’t prove it, but time passes more slowly in Hilo. On the mainland, I wake up, deal with a few things, and suddenly it’s 1pm and then 6pm–and in a flash it’s past my bedtime. Here, despite an active, on-the-go morning, I’m often stunned to look at my watch and find a whole hour still available, at my disposal, before noon. A luxury.

Images: All photos shot in the backyard where I grew up.

Abhijata & mother

Abhijata Sridhar and her mother at the opening ceremony of the convention. Photo: Nancy Baldon

I try to avoid formal gatherings, red-eye flights, checked baggage, and yoga classes too large to allow eye contact with the teacher. But I was curious about the 2016 Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States convention in Boca Raton. I wanted to experience the teaching of Geeta Iyengar, who didn’t teach during my August 2014 trip to Pune. When she had to withdraw, I decided to pack my yoga props and go anyway–to see Abhijata Sridhar, BKS Iyengar’s granddaughter, take center stage.

I made the right decision. In her early 30s, Abhi is a remarkably mature teacher. She was completely in command of her audience, which included prominent senior teachers who were studying with her grandfather before she was born. Beyond her astute instructions, what impressed me was her instinctive common sense. While demonstrating poses onstage, she often directed the cameramen filming her: “Show from the side. They can see better that way.” The screens were behind her, but she always knew when the camera was missing the best angle. Does she have eyes behind her head?

Abhi from Lisa Braddock Waas Facebook

Despite her stature in the Iyengar yoga world, Abhijata is unpretentious and humble. Photo: Lisa Braddock Waas

Abhi has an easy, unflappable poise. When students, lying supine, were bumping arms despite alternating directions (head to toe), she said, “Don’t get upset with your neighbor. Maitri! Move your neighbor’s arm into the right place. Then your pose is better, and the other person’s pose is better.” Managing little things like the microphone, clipped to her shirt, is second nature to her. Demonstrating Salamba Sirsasana, her voice suddenly boomed out as the mic flopped down toward her mouth. She calmly unclipped it, placed it on the floor, and then rose into a headstand, deftly showing two common errors, legs too far forward or backward. In her presence, one feels secure.

Abhijata Sridhar

In 2000 at age 16, Abhijata entered graduate school in bioinformatics at the University of Pune–and also began studying yoga with her grandfather, aunt, and uncle at RIMYI. She became her grandfather’s main pupil and a junior teacher at the institute. Before one of her first solo teaching trips abroad, she asked her grandfather what she should teach. “I was nervous,” she said. His answer: “Just teach what I’ve taught you.”

She had an insight then that people aren’t necessarily interested in what she (then in her mid 20s) had to teach. They want to know what BKS Iyengar taught her. She realized that her value was her relationship with “this man.” (She often used these very words: “this man.” She had a dual relationship with him. He was her grandfather. He was her guru.)

Abhi poster SirsasanaShe has a point. Although her grandfather died almost two years ago, Iyengar yoga is still deeply based on his words, on his ideas. She could probably continue to share his teachings for five, maybe ten, years to come.

And then?

Abhi told a story of practicing in the hall one day. She was sitting in Bharadvajasana. Her grandfather walked in and asked, “What are you doing? Why are you doing Bharadvajasana like that?” She was perplexed. She was doing the pose just as he’d taught her the day before.

When she tried to explain, he got frustrated with her. That was yesterday’s pose; today is a new day. He said that she was doing not yogasana but bhogasana.

“Habit is a disease,” he said.

You might already have heard this quote. Here, Abhi carefully parsed the words “habituation” and “disease.” She initially didn’t understand why habits are necessarily bad. Especially yoga. Why would daily practice be a bad habit? But she eventually realized that if done only by habit–by repeating what we already know–we are not really practicing yoga.

The future of Iyengar yoga

At the convention, surrounded by a thousand practitioners, I listened to Abhijata’s words; to Geeta on video, addressing the convention from Pune; to senior teachers’ anecdotes and memories. Clearly, BKS Iyengar, while no longer physically present, still dominates the method that he created.

As Abhi pointed out, people are keen to know what “this man” taught her. Indeed, her history of direct study with him from 2000 to 2014 is invaluable. Those teachings will always be relevant and worth studying–same with the photos, videos, and writings of BKS Iyengar.

Abhi poster headTo honor his legacy, however, at some point we must also look forward. There must be a way to balance the fundamentals of the method with the exploration and experimentation that is the crux of Iyengar yoga. Being an Iyengar yogi can be a conundrum: On one hand, there are “rules” and “standards” (especially regarding certification and assessment) to maintain consistency worldwide. If teachers veer too far from established standards, they are not deemed Iyengar yoga teachers anymore.

On the other hand, rigidly following BKS Iyengar is the antithesis of his actual method. Many consider Light on Yoga indisputable regarding form and technique. BKS Iyengar did not. Published in 1966 when he was 48, it was a moment in his evolution rather than a be-all and end-all. Likewise, we must examine and reexamine and not blindly follow.

After classes with RIMYI teachers, do we quickly teach what they taught us? Abhi advised us to avoid immediately teaching what she taught at the convention. Instead practice a new approach on our own–for a long time. Otherwise we are only parroting others’ words and ideas.

BKS Iyengar wanted Abhi to take his 80 years of knowledge and go further. Not to repeat what he has done. If Iyengar yoga is to continue as a “living” method, Abhi will eventually need to go beyond sharing what she’s learned from her grandfather. Based on her teaching to date, she has enormous potential to do just that.



Q: How many people attended the convention?

A: About 1,200, of which more than half (if I heard correctly) were first-time attendees of a US Iyengar yoga convention. Every day I met new “neighbors” around my mat–including those from San Diego, Omaha, San Clemente, Alexandria, San Francisco, Billings, Nashville, New York, and even London–showing the reach of Iyengar yoga. Note: In the US, regional conferences are held annually, while a nationwide convention is held every three years.


Prop essentials: mat, four blankets, two straps, and a block.

Q: Describe doing yoga amid over 1,000 classmates.

A: Before this, the largest classes I’d attended were at the Iyengar Institute in Pune: 100 to 150 students. But, strangely, after the first few minutes, the mind adjusts. Doing asana, I was aware only of those immediately around me. To see Abhijata, there were two big screens in front, and the group was divided into six groups that rotated around the room.

Q: What are the benefits of such a large group?

A: Today, any class with Geeta Iyengar or Abhijata Sridhar will guarantee a huge crowd. So, if you want to study with the Iyengar family, you must be realistic. You also must shift your expectations. You’ll be “mat to mat” and you won’t get individualized correction–unless you get pulled onstage!

Q: Did she demonstrate on students?

A: Abhi took only a couple of students onstage. The most memorable was a woman in Salamba Sirsasana. We had gone up and were balancing for a few minutes when, walking around, she spied a woman overarching her lumbar spine. “Everybody come down,” she said. “You, come to the stage.”

“Don’t be nervous,” she said, after directing her to go up. To the audience, she said, “She can do the pose and balance, but look from side view.” The student’s front ribs were protruding. (There but for the grace of God go I.) Standing behind her, Abhi gave verbal corrections:

“Move the front ribs toward the back ribs.”



“But keep the buttocks in. Legs must still go up!”

“Front ribs must go back some more.”

And so forth. When she managed to straighten her spine a bit, the audience broke into spontaneous applause–to indicate that her form had improved and to give moral support.

Note: The quotations in this blog post are not exact. They based on my memory and thus subject to my interpretation and creative license.

Say a yoga teacher walks into class wearing a Bernie Sanders T-shirt. She is making a statement. Is this appropriate for a yoga teacher?


On one hand, making a political or any personal statement is not fundamentally wrong. Her quality as a teacher is not based on her political stance.

On the other hand, the context is questionable. A yoga setting should be neutral and conducive to a still mind. If politics (or religion) is introduced, it should be relevant to yoga. Wearing a Bernie T-shirt is more about the teacher’s personal agenda.

A yoga teacher’s personal opinions might be distracting, whether you agree or disagree with her. It’s also irrelevant to her role as yoga teacher. If a teacher’s responsibility is to teach yoga, every aspect of her conduct in class should facilitate just that.

Of course, a yoga teacher makes a statement the instant she opens her mouth. By her accent, her vocabulary, her turn of phrase, she reveals herself. If she mentions what she reads or where she travels, she is making innocuous little statements. By her race, ethnicity, size, and shape–factors she cannot control or change–she is affecting her message.

That said, the devil’s advocate in me can also argue, “So what?” So what if a teacher calls attention to her politics? Shouldn’t yoga be teaching students not to react, not to be pleased or displeased, not to react personally to others’ actions?

Raised fists

I would not have written this post without the instigation of my friend Jim, a writer and longtime Iyengar yoga student. He first brought up two examples of raised fists:

SJSU-SmithCarlosDuring a recent trip to California, Jim visited the Victory Salute monument, which honors African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos. In the 1968 Summer Olympics, Smith and Carlos took gold and bronze respectively in the 200m sprint. During the medal ceremony, they each raised a black-gloved fist throughout the American national anthem. They also wore no shoes, only black socks, to represent black poverty. The silver medalist, Australian Peter Norman, supported their action. In the monument, Norman’s spot on the podium is empty so that others can take a stand for equal rights.

Their gesture became known as the Black Power salute and was very controversial because the Olympics are intended to be apolitical. Smith, Carlos, and even Norman were ostracized by sports establishment and the media. Today, however, they are considered heroes for standing up for black rights and human rights.

Jim then forwarded me recent news coverage of a photo of 16 black women cadets at West Point. In the formal portrait, wearing full uniform to mimic 19th-century cadets, they are raising their fists. Some questioned whether they were making a political statement, which is prohibited at West Point. Were they expressing support of the Black Lives Matter movement? Or they simply expressing unity and achievement? Ultimately the US Military Academy deemed that they did not violate rules.

Jim challenged me to link the yoga context to these examples of political assertion in neutral settings that dissuade potentially divisive statements.

When objectivity isn’t enough

If, to me, yoga teachers generally shouldn’t bring their own politics into class, are there exceptions (such as raised fists on the Olympic podium in 1968)?

Yes, there will always be indisputable cases in which neutrality is not enough. The yoga setting probably shouldn’t become ground zero for politics, but being a yogi does include taking action. I recently chanced to read an old interview with Hunter S Thompson for The Atlantic that might apply here. Regarding his gonzo journalism, he said “Objective journalism is one of the main reasons American politics has been allowed to be corrupt for so long.”

Images: Bernie women’s T-shirt;  Victory Salute monument, San Jose State University

LW5D61S_1966_3In Vancouver, the yoga “uniform” is dictated by homegrown Lululemon Athletica. It’s the go-to source for yoga apparel, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, and yoga method. At The Yoga Space, an Iyengar studio where I study and teach, I recently found myself in a sea of Swiftly Tech tops and Wunder Unders (including mine). It’s not only a female thing. One day, I was adjusting the shoulders of a male student: a professor emeritus of literature, more the Canadian classic Tilley type–or so I thought. Then I noticed, glinting at me from the back of his pullover, the iconic Lululemon logo.

My first Lululemon purchase was the Groove Pant, followed by two pairs of Wunder Under crops, discounted on Boxing Day six years ago. Then, for a few years, I swore off Lululemon. They’d grown too large to manufacture in Canada, and I wanted to wean myself from petroleum-based nylon fabrics. But other brands either didn’t fit me (too baggy) or didn’t wear well (unraveled or frayed seams).

When I rediscovered Lululemon’s cotton-spandex Wunder Unders, I was hooked. Considering my friend and fellow blogger Michael Romero‘s disparagement of Lululemon’s sound-bite philosophy and sex-sells advertising–all warranted–I’d hate to tell him how many pairs of Wunder Unders I have! But, bottom line, they fit me and they’re durable (my original pairs are still wearable after countless wearings and washings, including the ultimate survival test at RIMYI in Pune).

Nevertheless, the ubiquitousness of Lululemon made me consider physical appearance. Iyengar yoga, among the yoga schools, is not trendy, not showy, and not a “scene.” Regarding attire, teachers are advised to avoid wearing anything skimpy, such as strappy tanks for women (note: bare legs are encouraged to display the kneecaps). Most teachers and students wear short-sleeved tee shirts with leggings or shorts. But practitioners do care about style, and most gravitate toward trend-setting brands like Lululemon.

Does it matter what we wear? How we look? Should it matter?

On one level, why not? Being well dressed is one aspect of professionalism. Grooming is perhaps socially ingrained or instinctive: after all, even my cat constantly grooms himself (and, as a tuxedo cat, he is always dashing)! I remember my first yoga teacher, Sandy Blaine, wearing unitards around the year 2000. No one else wore unitards; it was her unique yoga uniform. She was a gifted teacher, and she also looked the part.

But what difference does it make what we’re wearing? Our practice, our teaching, would not change. Or would it? I recently stumbled upon a couple of Atlantic Monthly articles on this very topic:

Psychology of Lululemon: How Fashion Affects Fitness

Wearing a Suit Makes People Think Differently

The studies mentioned in the articles look at how our clothing (such as suits and workout gear) affects our own behavior, not only others’ behavior toward us. While such findings offer some justification for building an impeccable wardrobe, where does that leave “renunciation,” a central in yoga, Buddhist, and other spiritual disciplines? Aren’t we supposed to be letting go of material priorities?

IMG_2959If, at one extreme, there are ascetics who forgo all worldly cares (including possessions, home, family, and identity) and, at the other end, the Kardashians and celebrity culture–where are we? Is there a middle ground. Maybe we “householder” yoga practitioners can have a reasonable quantity of material possessions, short of greed and excess.

Last thoughts on hair
Perhaps more than clothes, the human species is obsessed with hair. Having more or less made peace with my curly hair, I adhere to a minimal routine, no heat, no color, infrequent trims. Three months ago, on a whim, I decided to add a few highlights to brighten my long, dark Vancouver winter.

Having broken the ice, I suddenly felt inspired to try a dramatic balayage next time. Then, last month, a guest kitty entered our household. Check out her stunning balayage (colorist, Mother Nature). She has one outfit, one hairstyle. Life is simple. We should be so lucky.

certification-markFor my new volunteer job as “certification mark registrar” for the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada, I must obtain signed contracts from newly certified teachers. Sending out forms and getting them back. How difficult can this be?

Well, in my first batches of contracts, only half were done properly. Many were missing required elements, such as witness’s signature or street address for service of process in case of misconduct.

After requesting newly executed contracts, I faced second-round glitches. For example, one person sent me only one copy, with a different omission. Original error was corrected, new errors introduced. Back to square one.

Maybe people are unaccustomed to paper forms nowadays. With online forms, the electronic system instantly flags errors. “To continue, you must provide all missing information highlighted in red,” an error page might read. You cannot proceed if you leave blank a required text field or if your twice-entered email addresses don’t match. Paper forms require more care and precision (hmm, aren’t these Iyengar yoga attributes?).

The piecemeal back and forth (emailing, mailing, answering questions, checking and organizing paperwork) was adding up. We were wasting time and energy, paper and postage.

Suddenly I thought of the obvious solution: a checklist. Why not include a checklist with my next batch of contracts? Not foolproof, certainly, but haven’t they been proved to reduce errors? From pre-flight checklists to improve aviation safety to surgical checklists to reduce patient risk, they stand in for the fallible human brain.

I thought of my own collection of checklists. I keep a handwritten index card titled “Pool Checklist,” which lists my necessary swimming gear, such as cap, goggles, slippers, towel, and combination lock. (Forgetting slippers disturbs my peace of mind, but forgetting goggles means no swim.) I always jot down a packing list before a trip. I’m a habitual keeper of to-do lists, which Apple’s Notes app manages well with its handy “checklist.” Bigger picture, a to-do list might comprise New Year’s resolutions or a bucket list of lifetime goals.

Regarding the certification mark contracts, my objective is simple: to avoid errors, whether due to inattention, carelessness, or ignorance.

Vir I WitoldThe idea of a checklist got me thinking about my instructions to yoga students. In a way, my teaching points–on the entry, exit, and “actions” of a pose–constitute a checklist, a step-by-step guide. For Virabhadrasana I, beginners need to hear, “Jump your legs and arms wide apart, turn your right leg all the way out, left foot in 45 to 60 degrees,” and so forth. During the pose, all students need repeated reminders on the workings of the feet, legs, pelvis, chest, and other major spots. I’m red-flagging essential steps and actions that students might forget or simply not know.

That said, a checklist of yoga instructions is only the beginning. It’s probably not ideal to get stuck doing asana to the mental refrain of “lift the inner arches” or “draw the shoulder blades down.” While helpful, this checklist approach is scattered and discrete. Shouldn’t asana eventually be integrated, generating the appropriate actions automatically? Shouldn’t it become clear–through the body itself, not through a verbal laundry list–whether the pose is being done well?

Also, a checklist is useful only when time is not pressing. In movement, one can process instructions only if static or moving slowly. For quick movements (from returning a tennis serve to kicking up into handstand), one can prepare with self talk, but the body must act freely when actually moving.

When appropriate, checklists can be effective. (Simply by writing a checklist, I feel productive. At minimum they provide a sense of achievement, however illusory.) I’ll definitely include a checklist with the next batch of contracts. Can’t hurt.

Images: BKS Iyengar yoga certification mark; to-do list, dumblittleman.com; Virabhadrasana I, yogaartandscience.com

In my everyday life in Vancouver, yoga plays a major role in my identity. People know me as yoga classmate, colleague, teacher, and blogger. People whom I’ve never met know me as YogaSpy; my blog is our connection.

In contrast, my closest family members rarely mention my blog! They’re positive about it, but it’s not our main point of connection.

Even my yoga teaching, which looms large in my Vancouver life, seems to fade away. Visiting my parents at home, I do wear my yoga teacher with my dad, to improve his flexibility and posture (whether he likes it or not!). But my mini sessions with him never seem half as effective as my real classes.

American Girl dollsBefore a real class, regardless of my prior state, I gather myself together. I banish any distractions and I arrive with high energy and a smile. At home, I might be ensconced on a sofa, reading a book or typing away, deep in thought, when my dad says, “Okay, I’m ready for yoga now.” It’s a rare and fleeting opportunity, so I always take it. But it’s hard to switch gears in five seconds.

In a group setting, my teaching style is firm and directive, but tempered with humor. One on one I might come across as bossy–at least to my dad. “You don’t talk to your students like that, do you?” he once said.

In class, I’m stricter with students who can do more, gentler with those who can’t. Maybe I’m too insistent with my dad because I’m personally attached to him; I want him to do more.

A brief session squeezed in before dinner is adequate. But it’s no comparison to a full-length class that includes Savasana. I always feel rushed and abrupt. The balanced arc of a good yoga sequence is missing. But there’s never enough time or the right moment for a class during family visits.

I’ve sometimes felt unseen as the yoga teacher I am in my other life. Unseen as the current me. But I’ve also realized that to my family I’m not primarily a yoga teacher and blogger. Whatever I do in the yoga realm doesn’t matter if I’m a mediocre sister, daughter, or aunt.

Amulet 1-3 setOur karma in the moment

Around the New Year, I traveled to my sister’s home in California. My parents also flew in, and the visit was all about family. I gave my sister a few yoga tips, but otherwise did no teaching or blogging (and the barest minimum of practice).

Instead I read my niece’s Amulet books (a riveting graphic novel series by Kazu Kibuishi), spent two hours at an American Girl store, told nightly made-up bedtime stories, played Pictionary, staged adventures with dozens of Schleich animals…

I got to thinking about karma yoga and our “duty” in each circumstance of our lives. It’s a mistake to cling to one role, the role you might consider your most important, most successful, or most impressive. In a job interview, it makes sense to highlight one’s achievements, but I’ve seen people listing their degrees or name dropping their connections when it doesn’t matter a bit.

In contrast I’ve seen people who relate to others appropriately in the moment. They relate to peers as peers, to a child at the child’s level. Even to cats as if as cats, dogs as if as dogs. This is what it means to be empathetic and intuitive.

In my professional life, I’ve always known my roles and responsibilities. Sometimes, in my personal life, the edges are fuzzier and my expectations broader. In this New Year, I want to be clear on my karma in each situation. If I’m attached to my Vancouver identity when I’m with my family, I’m catering to my ego. That’s not karma yoga, no matter how much yoga I might do.