I recently caught a CBC radio interview with twin sisters Lisa-Kainde and Naomi Diaz of the French-Cuban musical duo Ibeyi. They have roots in France, having grown up in Paris, and in Cuba, homeland of their late father, well-known percussionist Anga Diaz. In the interview, the sisters commented on how everyone sings in Cuba. Singing is not restricted only to performers or to professionals. Maybe it’s because kids don’t have other things to do, they said. No PlayStation and other material things. In contrast, in other countries and cultures, little kids might all sing, but soon separate into singers and non-singers. An offshoot of singing is chanting, another vocal … Continue reading Do you sing? Do you chant?
At my sister’s home in Santa Cruz, I do a brief yoga practice before breakfast with my niece. In my bedroom, there are large mirrored closet doors. I typically face away from the mirrors. During my last trip, however, I ended up doing … Continue reading Yoga and mirrors: do they mix?
Visiting San Francisco last summer, I took a few classes at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco, within walking distance from my friend’s house. “Have you done Iyengar yoga before?” a front-desk staffer asked me when I arrived. “Yes,” I nodded and smiled, but said … Continue reading Going “undercover” as a yoga student
In my first class for teens, I taught an active, but basic, sequence, with lots of jumpings and standing poses. Most were absolute beginners; even the basics were demanding. After class, however, the teens’ teacher, an Iyengar yoga student herself, made a request. “Next week show them some of the fancy poses,” she said. “Fire them up. They don’t know anything about yoga and need to see where it can go.” In my typical adult classes, I demonstrate a pose only if relevant to the day’s sequence. Rarely, almost never, would I demo a pose if I’m not teaching it. Here, she was asking me to do just … Continue reading The yoga “demonstration”
For four weeks last spring, I taught Iyengar yoga to 40 teenagers. All were academically gifted students enrolled in an early-admission university program. While a couple had done yoga in elementary school or with Wii Fit, most had never attended a single yoga class. Thank goodness they were split into two groups of 20. Teens, no matter how advanced academically, behave nothing like adults in class! While I taught a particular subset of teenagers, here are my observation on teaching teens versus adults: Teens can’t stop talking I mistakenly assumed that because these kids were stellar students, they would immediately shut their traps and listen silently (as do adult students). No way! They … Continue reading On teaching teens
In early 2014, I strained a left hamstring muscle near the origin. Or an external rotator in the left hip. Or something. It snuck up on me. There was no acute injury. I simply noticed less range of motion (ROM) in straight-legged, forward-bending poses, marked … Continue reading Case study: hamstring strain (or something)
Before a pranayama class at RIMYI in Pune last August, we students were sprawled on our mats. Some sitting, some chatting; others, like me, lying down leg stretches. When the teacher, Rajlaxmi, entered the room and settled herself on a bolster, I swung up, sit-up style. “Lie back down!” she yelled. What? In a flash, we lowered ourselves to the floor. “Now, roll to the right,” she directed. “Look down. Push yourself up. That’s how we sit up in yoga.” Rajlaxmi is practical, focused primarily on alignment and technique. But that day she reminded me of yoga protocol–the rules and rituals we follow … Continue reading Yoga protocol: why does it matter?
For my first six months of yoga classes, I used no props–at least what I now know as props. At the Berkeley RSF in the late 1990s, all we had were towels and padded gym mats (which did come in handy for kneeling). Eventually we got mats. But I didn’t try a block until I set foot in an actual yoga studio. In a year or two I began acquiring my own props. My first foam blocks were the dense, textured ones sold by Yoga Props, a longtime Internet retailer based in San Francisco. (I’ve never seen them sold elsewhere.) In classic black and with an un-scratchable … Continue reading The yoga block
A friend pointed me to a blog post, “Please, NO Lifts in Shoulderstand,” by Sandra Sammartino, a yoga teacher based in White Rock, BC. My initial response? No way. In Salamba Sarvangasana the overwhelming majority of people need shoulder support, such as folded blankets. Then I stopped and caught myself. In my prior post, “Learning on your own,” I wrote about the necessity to learn independently. This means being open-minded about teachings, techniques, rules, and majority opinions. Whether you ultimately agree or disagree with an established idea, your conclusion should be your own. So I read Sammartino’s piece more slowly. She studied with … Continue reading Unsupported shoulderstand?
I bumped into an old friend during my holiday trip to California. “Dylan” has always been an athlete, so I wasn’t surprised that he’s still avidly into hockey, skiing, and other sports. But I didn’t expect him to say, “And here’s one for you. I’m … Continue reading Learning on your own
Skimming through an issue of Common Ground, a Bay Area “consciousness” magazine, I spotted a photo of a slim young woman in Dhanurasana. Her pose was all wrong, painfully so, with a collapsed chest, convex thoracic spine, and widely splayed knees. The image accompanied a woman’s essay on surviving depression and addiction with the help of yoga. Incredibly, the image must have been considered presentable, perhaps illustrating a strong and inspiring pose. I was fixated on her egregious form. If this woman were in one of my classes, I’d immediately tell her to exit the pose–and to do a modified or propped version. First, she is inviting injury. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but … Continue reading No false praise in Iyengar yoga
The “yoga foot” has been much studied, taught, debated, and photographed. But what about the “yoga hand”? A few weeks ago, I was practicing yoga with my friend Sharmeen. She observed one of my standing poses and suddenly asked, “Why are your fingers spread apart like that?” Surprised, I exited the pose. “You mean like this?” Imagine fingers spread as if for Downward Dog. Since my formative years, yoga-wise, in late 1990s, I’ve typically spread my fingers in open-hand poses such as Urdhva Hastasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, and the Virabhadrasana family. The one pose for which I prefer closed fingers is Garudasana. … Continue reading The yoga hand