Yoga protocol: why does it matter?

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?

The yoga block

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

Unsupported shoulderstand?

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?

Learning on your own

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 learning to play bluegrass banjo.” What? Is Dylan even musical? Anyway, he wanted a quality instrument, so he commissioned a Wildwood banjo. Now he’s learning a few bluegrass favorites, mostly on his own. “What about lessons?” I asked. “Right now, I need to get a feel for the instrument,” he said. “No one can really teach that. So every night, for a couple hours, I tool … Continue reading Learning on your own

No false praise in Iyengar yoga

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 hand

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

Train like a German soccer star

In early September, I chanced upon the New York Times article, “Train Like a German Soccer Star,” by Gretchen Reynolds. After seven weeks abroad, I’d just returned to Vancouver, still gloriously sunny. Rather than resuming my pre-trip routine, I decided to try something new. Check out the eight warm-up exercises developed by Mark Verstegen, team trainer for the German national football team, which won the 2014 World Cup, and founder of EXOS, a Phoenix-based athletic training company. I substituted this routine for my yoga practice two mornings a week. I ramped it up to a workout by increasing the number of repetitions and sets–and lengthening the distance covered when skipping and … Continue reading Train like a German soccer star

What it’s like at RIMYI (Part II)

Note: This post continues my “self interview” about RIMYI. Read Part I first. Was the student population diverse? Based on my unscientific observations during August 2014, the biggest contingent was from Italy. I met dozens of Italians and many British and French. I met a handful each from the US, Canada, and Japan, and others from Germany, Australia, Spain, Russia, Hungary, Hong Kong, Israel, Mexico, Singapore, Chile, Colombia, and South Africa. The Indian students were local, i.e., Indian citizens, mostly Pune residents. In terms of race/ethnicity, the majority of foreigners were Caucasian. There were some Asians and Hispanics; I saw no blacks or people of African descent. The gender ratio was relatively balanced, with about a 60/40 … Continue reading What it’s like at RIMYI (Part II)

What it’s like at RIMYI (Part I)

Since flying home two weeks ago, my temporary life in Pune already feels distant–long ago, far away, a parallel world that words cannot quite describe. Once back, my mind switched to the here and now, the immediate stuff of life. Sooner than I probably realize, my memories of RIMYI and India will grow fuzzy, however vivid they once were. People will stop asking me about my trip; I’ll stop thinking about it. Time marches on. So, before I forget, here’s a two-part post on “what it’s like” at RIMYI, dedicated to other first-timers. I’ll post the second half next week, so feel free to ask any burning questions before … Continue reading What it’s like at RIMYI (Part I)

Packing wisely

Before my nearly seven-week trip to Pune, Bombay, and London, I debated about luggage. Initially I planned to travel light: rolling carry-on, plus computer backpack and messenger bag. In chatting with colleagues, however, I decided to bring a 26-inch check-in suitcase. One friend always packs important items  such as survival tools in her carry-on bag, but checks in a suitcase stocked with favorite foods, such as Brazil nuts, which she can’t find in India. Others want luggage space to bring home yoga props, books, textiles, cookware, or souvenirs. I asked people, “Can I find rolled oats in Pune?” since oatmeal is my standard breakfast. They … Continue reading Packing wisely

London: civilization as I know it

I love London! On my first day, I was in fantasy land. How can streets and sidewalks be this clean? Where’s the garbage, poop, and unidentifiable muck? Why are cars stopping for pedestrians? Tap water is drinkable and power outages rare? In India I spent my final week in Mumbai. This city is incomparably larger than Pune–and urban life is amplified and multiplied. The noise, the air, the population, the traffic, the rain and wind and humidity! Since I stay with a friend, however, I was generally shielded from the struggles of daily life. Take food. I’ve raved about the cooking of Abelin, my friend’s wonderful housekeeper. She’s … Continue reading London: civilization as I know it

Odissi, Ganesh, and complexity of Indian culture

India has long intrigued the Western imagination. Ancient, colorful, and intense, it is a beacon to those seeking a place unlike anywhere else. People often rave about the country’s “exotic” culture and downplay its negatives, such as rampant corruption and abysmal infrastructure. But even the culture, as practiced today, is thorny. Here are two examples. First, on Ganesh Chaturthi, I was treated to a wonderful impromptu Odissi dance done for me. In Mumbai, Hemali Talsania, the Bravo Bombay tour guide I met in July, invited me to her home south of Crawford Market. Amid narrow, bustling lanes that confused even my cab driver, her house is an old, … Continue reading Odissi, Ganesh, and complexity of Indian culture