Take it to the next level

Last summer, I resumed freestyle lap swimming after a hiatus. I’m purely a rec swimmer and will never be super fast, but I still want to cut my 1000-meter time, 25 minutes. “What’s a ‘decent’ 1000-meter swim time?” I asked my yoga student who does triathlons. Here’s her paraphrased answer: It depends. A fast swimmer will take 15 minutes or less. A slow swimmer will take 30 minutes or more. Most of us have a comfortable speed. Swimming is not like running (at least to me). The time difference between my fastest and slowest swims is about two minutes, but I … Continue reading Take it to the next level

Making money from yoga teaching

The other day, teaching at a community centre, I did an elevated Chatushpadasana (Bridge pose), feet on chair. Props are minimal, but include thick mats, foam blocks, and straps. I resorted to supporting my shoulders with a folded-up mat. During my demo, I immediately realized that one mat was inadequate, but nevertheless worked the pose. After exiting, I directed students to use more height. That afternoon, my upper trapezius was aching. Did I hyperflex my cervical spine?! I regretting holding my demo at the expense of my body. My fault, I know. Ironically, I escaped whiplash when rear-ended at a stoplight … Continue reading Making money from yoga teaching

An Iyengar yogini in a flow yoga class

During my Lonely Planet research trip to Hawaii, I dropped on 75-minute classes at two Hilo studios: Balancing Monkey and Yoga Centered. Neither offers Iyengar yoga , but one teacher’s bio mentioned that she’s in training for Intro II certification. Curious, I attended her “basics” class–and a half-priced “community flow” class at the other studio. Guess which is which: SEQUENCE 1 Sukhasana (on two adjacent blocks) Adho Mukha Virasana Spinal Stretch (to wall) Vrksasana (back against wall) Garudasana (legs only) Virabhadrasana I (front foot on two blocks stacked against wall) Parsvakonasana Dandasana (on bolster) Marichysana I (on bolster) Marichyasana III (on bolster) … Continue reading An Iyengar yogini in a flow yoga class

Can Iyengar yoga attract the masses?

A friend recently tried a few classes at one of Vancouver’s large, multi-branch yoga studios. While her main practice is Iyengar yoga, she was curious to see what else is out there. She found teaching quality quite variable, and she was amazed at the hordes of students. “How big are the classes?” I asked. “At least 30, maybe 40,” she said. “And when we exit the room, the line-up for the next class is just as long!” I wasn’t surprised. In my own explorations, I’ve attended classes with 60+ students at large studios. Considering probable attrition rates, these studios must … Continue reading Can Iyengar yoga attract the masses?

Yoga videos versus yoga teaching

After President Obama’s second inauguration in January, Beyoncé got flak for performing the US national anthem using a pre-recorded version. At first, I agreed that singing live is not only superior, but also expected. On second thought, her recorded version is still her. We hear her voice, her interpretation. So what if she sang it beforehand? Music is an art form experienced mostly through recording anyway. I researched and found some famous renditions of “The Star-Spangled Banner”: Whitney Houston’s 1991 Super Bowl XXV performance apparently was pre-recorded: Marvin Gaye 1983 NBA All-Star Game performance was not: Yet both are fantastic. I proceeded to think … Continue reading Yoga videos versus yoga teaching

Secret ingredients

Ever seen cooking shows like Iron Chef America or Chopped? When I occasionally watch these cook-offs, I quite enjoy them. In well under an hour, chefs must whip up culinary masterpieces using “secret ingredients” revealed at the last moment. Their dishes must be creative without overshadowing the ingredients or sacrificing taste—classic yet extraordinary. Maybe I somewhat relate to the dramatic tension. In Iyengar yoga assessments (yes, there is a connection), candidates also face a list of “secret” poses 40 minutes before teaching them. Candidates also perform under time pressure, observed by a panel of judges. While candidates’ personalities differ, teaching points must … Continue reading Secret ingredients

In traveling, a companion; in life, compassion

Since I write for Lonely Planet, people assume that I’m constantly traveling. I’m often asked about where I’m going, where I’ve been. Actually, I take only family and work trips nowadays. This year my destinations were familiar ones: Hawaii, San Francisco, Berkeley, and Santa Cruz. For required work meetings, I also flew to Atlanta, my first view of the Deep South. I haven’t had an open-ended journey in eons. I’m currently more focused on Iyengar yoga training and teaching in Vancouver. And, truth be told, I’m somewhat of a homebody. Even homebound, however, I could relate to a Japanese proverb … Continue reading In traveling, a companion; in life, compassion

Do you chant? Do you pray?

In the first decade of my yoga practice, I rarely chanted. Occasionally a teacher might’ve led students in chanting “om,” but that was about it. Since moving to Vancouver in the late 2000s, I found that Iyengar yoga classes often start with chanting the Invocation to Patanjali. At first I needed to follow along with a printout of the Sanskrit words. While I somewhat enjoyed pronouncing the unfamiliar sounds, chanting felt a bit awkward. Perhaps it felt like playacting—not just the vocalizing, but the idea of doing something so earnestly, conspicuously spiritual. (I grew up in a secular Jodo Shinshu Buddhist household, … Continue reading Do you chant? Do you pray?

In defense of wearing glasses while doing yoga

When I first started practicing yoga in Berkeley, I wore contact lenses all the time. Then a friend commented that wearing contacts permanently enlarges blood vessels in the eye. “Look at people who’ve never worn contacts,” he said. “The whites of their eyes are much whiter.” He was right. So my original vanity to avoid being a “girl in glasses” bowed to my wiser vanity to maintain clear, bright eyes for the rest of my life. I experimented with wearing glasses during physical activity: Working out at the gym (fine). Running (troublesome). Swimming using Rx goggles (surprisingly fine). Yoga (fine). I tried … Continue reading In defense of wearing glasses while doing yoga

Good Morning Starshine? Desperado? What’s “your” song?

My yoga friend Helen, a pianist, recently mentioned the work of Don Greene, a well-known sports psychologist and performance coach. Skimming his writings, I found the following tip for “centering” before performing: Conjure up a “process cue”: words, images, sounds, or sensations associated with successful performance. This could be a phrase like “good tempo,” a positive memory, a song. He says that music is very effective. It conjures up a mood, a setting; it can psych you up or calm you down. A song? In February I took my Intro I assessment toward Iyengar certification. (Intro I is akin to a qualifying exam; … Continue reading Good Morning Starshine? Desperado? What’s “your” song?

The end of the story

The other day, waiting at a bus stop, I noticed a well-dressed man racing to catch his bus. The last passenger was already boarding, and drivers are notorious for zooming off. A few onlookers turned to see whether he caught it. (He did.) That’s human nature, I thought to myself: We want to know what happened. If I get halfway through a disappointing book or dud movie, I often forge through to the end, for closure. If I hear an anecdote, I’m especially curious to know the end result. Obituaries (or even, forgive me, the name-dropping New York Times Wedding/Celebrations … Continue reading The end of the story

The element of risk

When was the last time you took an exam that mattered? During my end-of-summer trip to California, an acquaintance asked about my training to be a certified Iyengar yoga teacher. I gave him the gist, describing how the training program, while international in scope, is small and selective, mentor-based, and lengthy. And then there is assessment. To be certified, one must pass a national assessment, by an objective panel of senior teachers, of one’s practice and teaching. Put another way, one can fail. In many teacher-training programs, participation is enough! I’ve experienced a couple of assessments as a “student,” and … Continue reading The element of risk