On Supta Virasana and sticking to resolutions

There’s nothing like a public resolution to shame spur me to action. In July I vowed to do Supta Virasana daily, and nothing short of catastrophe could’ve kept me from a perfect record. One evening, the temperature inside was still in the 70s (a veritable heat wave in Vancouver) and a bunch of windows were open for ventilation. Suddenly I detected the distinct odor of… skunk. “Hurry, close the windows!” Of course, that only locked in heat and smell, yet I dragged out my props and braced myself for five nauseated minutes in the pose. Some days, the pose felt fine, … Continue reading On Supta Virasana and sticking to resolutions

Yoga, sleep, Savasana, insomnia… and the curious case of Paschimottanasana

Savasana versus nap Have you ever fallen asleep in Savasana? I rarely do, but one of my colleagues seems to doze off regularly. Although we don’t attend the same weekly class, we attend workshops together. If I’m in his vicinity during Savasana, I’ve heard him softly snoring each time. Me, I’m just the opposite. I lie down and let go as instructed. But, while my body rests, my mind continues to whir for a few minutes. So, unless we do a luxuriously long Savasana, I never quite reach mental stillness. When I occasionally do drift off, I know it’s not … Continue reading Yoga, sleep, Savasana, insomnia… and the curious case of Paschimottanasana

July challenge: Supta Virasana every day for 31 days

In June, I attended a three-day workshop with Chris Saudek, a senior Iyengar teacher based in Wisconsin. She made her first trip to RIMYI in 1980, and today her midwestern decorum belies her brilliantly intense sequences and drill-sergeant rigor. I gain much physically from her workshops: my hip flexors were toast after the first full day, while my anterior deltoids felt it for weeks! But her finer teaching points will stick with me much longer. I can still hear her words. One day, a student asked about dealing with injuries or trouble spots. Her answer started with a question: “If your teacher … Continue reading July challenge: Supta Virasana every day for 31 days

Remember when summer vacation seemed to last forever?

I just bumped into a yoga student I taught in February. He’d attended my classes while his teacher was studying with the Iyengars in India. “Ned,” a professor emeritus of chemistry, was brand new to yoga. Following directions seemed alien to him at first, and I had to be extra firm. He found basic stretches very intense, and he wasn’t shy about breaking the studio silence with some audible huffing and puffing. But he didn’t mind being corrected and was very motivated to work on his tight shoulders and hamstrings. I appreciated his commitment: he arrived for class early and … Continue reading Remember when summer vacation seemed to last forever?

Yoga Journal (and yoga), then and now

Last month I acquired a couple of Yoga Journal magazines from the late 1980s and early 1990s. What a revelation! I’m familiar with the magazine, having subscribed on and off (mostly on) since the late 1990s. But what a difference two decades can make. So impressive were the back issues that I found limited archives online at Yoga Journal on Google Books. Here are my observations, albeit from a third-person point of view: Personal transformation Back then yoga was less about fitness and more about transforming one’s mindset. YJ readers were seeking a mind-blowing, life-changing experience. They wanted to uproot their whole way … Continue reading Yoga Journal (and yoga), then and now

Tell me about pain, yours, and I will tell you mine

I need not introduce How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, the New York Times article that’s gone viral. My first response upon reading it: These anecdotes are outliers! Who sits in Vajrasana for hours daily, tears Achilles tendons in Downward Dog, or pops ribs in a spinal twist?! My second response: No Iyengar yoga teacher would intentionally push students too hard, beyond safety. Salamba Sarvangasana without a stack of blankets under the shoulders? Unheard of! If a novice tries a headstand or an Upward Bow backbend before she’s ready, the teacher would immediately say, “Stop! Come down now!” My third response: Uh, I’m … Continue reading Tell me about pain, yours, and I will tell you mine

Pranayama, sleep, and other New Year’s resolutions

In the late 1990s, I took to yoga asana without a second thought. My body immediately loved it. I initially attended three to five classes weekly. My little apartment, with carpet and cat, wasn’t ideal for home practice, but I eventually appropriated a floor and wall space at the UC Berkeley rec center for my practice. Pranayama is another animal. Stillness, physical or mental, is not second nature to me. I’ve attended classes and done some reading on pranayama over the years. But adding breath work to my current two-hour asana practice simply hasn’t happened. The immaculate expanse of a … Continue reading Pranayama, sleep, and other New Year’s resolutions

Do Savasana first?

Last weekend I enjoyed a rigorous workshop taught by Chris Saudek, a senior Iyengar teacher from the Midwest. Since 1980 she has studied with the Iyengars in Pune; now, at the Senior Intermediate III level, she trains teachers in the US and Canada. The asana sessions were challenging in the classic Iyengar way, with basic poses transforming into intense “experiences.” Sure, poses such as Pincha Mayurasana and Bhekasana are demanding, but who would’ve expected Paschima Namaskarasana to be so memorable (ie, excruciating)? Try holding it for 15 minutes (or what felt like forever), working through the stages of Parsvottanasana! But … Continue reading Do Savasana first?

Skimming the surface

Here in Vancouver, Canucks fans are thrilled. Their team made the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years. Me? I’m a sporadic and superficial sports watcher. I might half-watch Olympic events, Wimbledon finals, NCAA playoffs, Tour de France stages, hockey games. I might enjoy the drama and athleticism. But I am rather clueless about the actual sports. Watching a hockey game, I know I’m catching only the gist, barely keeping my eye on the puck. When I moved to Canada, I had to Google “hat trick,” “penalty box,” “power play,” and “Don Cherry.” I can’t recall who won the Cup … Continue reading Skimming the surface

On being “ready” for a pose

Yesterday someone asked me, “How do I know if I’m ready for a pose?” “Which pose?” I asked back. “Handstand.” During a recent workshop with senior Iyengar yoga teacher Gabriella Giubilaro, she finally kicked up, with a minimal spot. But she usually requires more help. She’s rather nervous about the pose, and handstand requires a bit of aplomb, plus lightness and control. We discussed the essential requirements, such as limber hamstrings, open chest and shoulders, and solid arms (she hyperextends her elbows). Working on each element is helpful but ultimately there’s only way to befriend a pose: to do it. Kick … Continue reading On being “ready” for a pose

What are your favorite yoga props?

About a year after I got my first yoga mat in 1998, I invested in other Iyengar props (including blankets, blocks, and strap). I purchased them from San Francisco’s Yoga Props (buy local!), and I still use those props at home. Today I bought a bunch of new props (more blankets, blocks, and straps, plus those Canadian chip foam blocks and two 10-pound sandbags) from Vancouver’s Halfmoon (buy local!). I bought them to use at my first workshop with Gabriella Giubilaro, a big favorite among Iyengar practitioners at the Yoga Space. We local students are required to bring our own … Continue reading What are your favorite yoga props?

Paying attention when it really matters

On the fifth day of the month, I do a semi fast. Tea is allowed, as are fruit (just enough to avoid hypoglycemia!). I do this to commemorate the June 5, 2009, death of my calico, Gingy. She was a major part of my life for almost 15 years, and I’ll always remember her challenging gaze, her harlequin face, and her “I’m hungry” meow. But I know that my memory will grow blurry around the edges. I look at photos and videos to bring her back in crisp vivid color, while I also try to remember her more consciously once … Continue reading Paying attention when it really matters