The humility to learn

“Do you still take classes?” a student asked, upon hearing that I’d be attending a weekend workshop. For a moment I was speechless. I can’t imagine ever not taking classes. I explained that most Iyengar yoga teachers continue taking classes and workshops (and, if possible, trips to RIMYI in India)–for life. That weekend workshop was taught by Mahyar Raz, a Junior Advanced II level teacher based in Toronto and Tehran. Attendees ranged from decades-long practitioners to keen novices. Many, including myself, were unfamiliar with Mahyar, who delved deeply, with drama and with humor, into the fundamentals. Click here for a few … Continue reading The humility to learn

A few quotes by Mahyar Raz

Describing a yoga workshop is daunting. Do I stick to objective reportage or do I share my subjective gut feelings? I won’t even try to describe Mahyar Raz‘s workshop, but I’ll let her words (and she is not shy about sweeping pronouncements) speak for themselves: “You must feel the pose, in your muscles, in your body. Before, Guruji taught simply by having students do and experience. Later came note taking and books.” “Every injury actually happened one year before.” (In response to a student’s question on injury prevention, she emphasized awareness, moment to moment.) “You cannot learn quickly. It’s not McDonald’s. No … Continue reading A few quotes by Mahyar Raz

Where’s your psoas? Your sacrum? Your big-toe mound?

If a yoga teacher refers to your psoas, do you know what she’s talking about? The Iyengar method of teaching yoga is precise and detailed. Instructions are conveyed visually (through demos) and verbally (through words). Teachers sometimes discuss whether specific anatomical terms should be used. Is it better to say “hamstrings” or “back thighs”? Can students identify  “psoas,” “sacrum,” and even “big-toe mound”? The common wisdom is that teachers should not bombard beginners with overly specific terminology (which the average layperson would need to look up in an anatomy textbook). Having practiced law for a nanosecond myself, I can relate … Continue reading Where’s your psoas? Your sacrum? Your big-toe mound?

Knowing “who’s who” among yoga teachers

When I took my first yoga class in 1997, I had no idea who the “major” teachers were. I didn’t know what “Iyengar” meant and had to ask my first teacher, Sandy Blaine, to spell it. I met Sandy fortuitously since she then taught at UC Berkeley’s rec center (free classes for members!). But I got lucky. Sandy was an excellent teacher. Despite my total ignorance about yoga, that much was clear. Now, 15 years in, I recognize many names in the Iyengar world and beyond. Most teachers/studios have attractive websites with detailed bios elaborating training, mentors, level of certification, … Continue reading Knowing “who’s who” among yoga teachers

Mission control

Did you watch Felix Baumgartner’s 24 mile, four minute, 834 mph jump from a helium balloon 128,100 feet above Earth? Wow. My first reaction was vicarious terror. This guy is insane! This video shows him preparing to jump, guided by Joe Kittinger, age 84, a retired Air Force colonel who set the longest/highest/fastest skydive record in 1960. My second reaction was vicarious reassurance—thanks to Kittinger’s steady voice. Kittinger guided Baumgartner through a 40-item checklist, which the video catches from “item 26.” Surely he already knew the sequence, which includes simple steps such as “slide the seat forward” and “release seat … Continue reading Mission control

What professionalism means to me

A few months ago, I had a little falling-out with my massage therapist. While temporary and amicable, it made me consider the meaning of professionalism. I met “Jane” in early 2010, when I decided to treat myself to massage (among my favorite splurges). She had her quirks, but I appreciated her long experience, unpretentious personality, and reasonable rates. To me she was like a well-meaning, goofy aunt, whose idiosyncrasies I let slide. For example, she’s routinely late. Not 10 or 15 minutes, but up to 45 minutes or more. She drives to Vancouver from Port Moody and something always delays her: … Continue reading What professionalism means to me

So many books, so little time

Vancouver’s indie Book Warehouse is closing its West Broadway location (sigh). All stock is discounted 25%. I was tempted by 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die*, a 960-page reference edited by Peter Boxall, English professor, University of Sussex. But the sheer number put me off. It’s probably impossible to read all 1,001 selections, but I crunched the numbers anyway. If I read 25 books a year, it would take 40 years. If I rack up a staggering 50 books a year, it would take 20 years. Actually, popular blogger Steve Pavlina made a compelling argument for this very goal, Read … Continue reading So many books, so little time

The challenge to my intelligence

Years ago I discovered Lydia Davis‘s fragmentary short stories. While extremely brief and lacking standard beginning-middle-end structure, they were strangely compelling. Recently I was reminded of her: the title of my last post, “The End of the Story,” is the title of her only novel. For fun I Googled her name and found an interesting 2008 interview in The Believer. When asked about how Samuel Beckett‘s writing influenced her, she responded: I came to Beckett very early on and was startled by his pared-down style. As I practiced writing (in my early twenties), I actively studied his way of putting sentences … Continue reading The challenge to my intelligence

Are you chatty with your yoga students?

One of my yoga-teacher colleagues wondered if she reveals too much of herself to her students. Before class, she might chat with students, and so they end up knowing bits and pieces about her life. Warm and outgoing, she calls herself an “open book” with people. But she questioned whether should be more “mysterious,” ie, businesslike, focusing purely on her role as yoga teacher. Yoga teachers vary in their degree of self-revelation to students. It all depends on a teacher’s innate personality. As a teacher, I try not to be too chatty and familiar in the class setting. If there … Continue reading Are you chatty with your yoga students?

No water bottles in the studio

Last Sunday, I was about to start teaching when I spied water bottles amid the mats, blocks, and blankets. It was hot, and I teach a rigorous class. One student claims that I can make her sweat in Tadasana. “Put your water bottles against the wall,” I said, “otherwise I might kick them over. Strict Iyengar teachers wouldn’t let you bring them in the studio.” Hey, I immediately remembered, I’m strict. I was also wary of messy spillage. “Actually, I changed my mind. Let’s not develop bad habits. Leave your water on the sink.” “Drinking water during practice is generally … Continue reading No water bottles in the studio

Is a bad yoga class still pretty good?

Recently at the gym, I spied on a yoga-type class (it turned out to be “lyrical jazz”) in the adjacent dance studio. The teacher was doing what resembled Upavistha Konasana, facing a wall-to-wall mirror. Behind her, a lineup of students tried to copy. With her elbows grounded on the floor, the teacher lengthened her spine forward. Her students were obviously beginners. While they varied in flexibility, all were rounding their backs and one was obviously in distress (and, of course, totally oblivious). I was waiting for the teacher to jump up and help her students. Instead, she continued in her own … Continue reading Is a bad yoga class still pretty good?

Are your yoga teachers as eagled-eyed as mine?

At a recent Iyengar teacher training session, we took turns performing and observing different asanas. In Iyengar yoga, being a keen observer is essential to being a good teacher. The great ones can practically intuit students’ weaknesses, habits, and blind spots. I ended up performing Adho Mukha Vrksasana (arm balance or handstand) at a wall for the group of  teachers and colleagues. I kicked up just fine; no flailing, no hesitation, no crashing into the wall. But Iyengar yoga goes beyond whether one can “do” a pose. First, my mentor teacher, Louie, noticed that I’d placed my hands wider than my … Continue reading Are your yoga teachers as eagled-eyed as mine?