Vary the terrain

In running, they say, “vary the terrain.” Roads, trails, hills, flats. Different types of terrain develop your fitness in different ways. I recently found this tidbit applicable to… yoga teaching. Stymied by Dog pose In winter I taught a small class at a community centre. Whether due to demographics or to coincidence, all of my students were older (55 to 65) and dealing to physical limitations. One woman had both rheumatoid and osteo arthritis. Another had extreme bunions and was recovering from foot surgery. One man had very limited range of motion across his joints, especially his shoulders. The class was … Continue reading Vary the terrain

Yogaphobic and yogaphilic people

During my Lonely Planet trip to Hawaii last winter, I taught a few yoga poses to my parents, especially my dad. He’s healthy and fit, but his posture needs an overhaul. His lumbar arch is too flat, while his thoracic spine too curved. Kyphosis. I admit that I was a pain, prodding my unassuming father to sit or stand up straight! My mini lessons were animated, to say the least. He knows absolutely nothing about asana, so every movement was strange to him. I was constantly correcting and adjusting, while repeating instructions and even scolding, when he did crazy things. Once, … Continue reading Yogaphobic and yogaphilic people

The secret lives of yoga teachers

Yesterday Tara Parker-Pope wrote “An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders” in her New York Times health column. It caught my eye because it profiles a 58-year-old yoga teacher who developed anorexia in her late 30s. “At 53, carrying just 85 pounds on her 5-foot-3 frame,” Parker-Pope writes, “Ms. Shaw checked herself in to an eating disorders program.” Skimming readers’ comments, it’s clear that there are multiple issues involved. But here’s what struck me: Can someone personally unhealthy (or unhappy) nevertheless be a decent yoga teacher? (Granted, Shaw might be only a casual, occasional teacher and not the best … Continue reading The secret lives of yoga teachers

The rudeness of yoga teachers

I take a weekly practice class with my main Iyengar teacher, a highly regarded “teacher’s teacher.” Today she was out of town; thus a sub (Iyengar-certified, Intermediate Junior I) taught her class. In general, students are disappointed when there’s a sub. Experienced students, especially, are picky and want to spend time and money only on their chosen teachers. As we prepped on our own before class, a fellow student (who’s a teacher herself) entered the studio, noticed that something was different, and asked whether our teacher was teaching today. The sub overhead and explained the situation. The inquiring student proceeded … Continue reading The rudeness of yoga teachers

Criticism and praise in yoga classes

I teach a couple of Iyengar yoga classes at a donation-based Yoga for the People studio. Here, students attend on a drop-in basis, and most are unfamiliar with Iyengar yoga. Recently, a woman dropped in for the first time. With a decade-long background in vinyasa yoga, she was neither newbie nor expert, and I instructed and adjusted her accordingly. Later, she thanked me and also admitted that my class was challenging for her ego. “[T]o deal with blocks and criticism!” she good-naturedly commented. (I’d instructed her to use a block in Trikonasana and adjusted her pelvis in the pose.) She … Continue reading Criticism and praise in yoga classes

Is it ever OK to give advice to strangers?

Among my favorite yoga blogs is Jessica Berger Gross’s Enlightened Motherhood, a Yoga Journal blog. Recently I was reminded of her August 11, 2010, post, “Don’t Be a Baby: And Other Things Not to Say to Your Child (Or to Your Yoga Students),” in which she contemplates whether it’s ever appropriate to offer parenting advice to strangers. At the gym, I watched a guy doing behind-the-neck shoulder presses with a barbell. Dressed in a snug white wife beater, he was obviously “into” working out and proud of his body. But, while he and his workout buddy were decently fit, his lumbar spine formed … Continue reading Is it ever OK to give advice to strangers?

The power of words: Part III

Sometimes, my words as a yoga teacher have a life of their own. Recently I was pleased to receive this email message from a student: “You had advised us during the last class of the summer session to pick three poses, do them every day, and see what happens. I picked plank, warrior 1, and dandasana against a wall (the one where you lift your arms up and try to touch your thumbs to the wall). This morning my son got me to try upward bow pose, the one where you had to spot us with straps and I couldn’t get even one millimetre off the … Continue reading The power of words: Part III

The power of words: Part II

As a yoga teacher, I let loose lots of words in class. Nowhere else do I speak nonstop for more than an hour. While my instructions seem straightforward, however, what I say can cause inadvertent effects. A student I’ll call Rose confided that she disliked the way I sometimes verbally correct students by name from afar. In my teaching, I try to give students as much individual attention as possible. I do this mostly up close. But if, while demonstrating a pose or navigating the room, I notice a student’s splayed feet or collapsed chest, I might say, “John, toes in,” … Continue reading The power of words: Part II

Reciprocal relationships

In my third year of law school, I took an elective called “Law and Literature,” taught by John Jay Osborne, Jr, author of The Paper Chase, a novel (and movie and TV show) about a Harvard law student and his obsession with his intimidating contracts professor. In this offbeat course (even at Berkeley), we escaped “black letter law” to analyze Shakespeare (King Lear) and Melville (Bartleby, the Scrivener), plus films such as Rashomon and Thelma and Louise. Discussing his own story one day, he focused on a final scene: Hart (Timothy Bottoms), the law student, converses with Professor Kingsfield (John Houseman), whose presence ruled … Continue reading Reciprocal relationships

Why Anusara?

In yesterday’s New York Times Magazine, Mimi Swartz wrote a lengthy profile on John Friend, the Houston-based founder of Anusara yoga. I’d been curious about this new (13 years old) form of yoga, based on Iyengar yoga but with a “touchy-feely” overlay. The article made me cringe, I must admit. It wasn’t only Mr Friend’s commercial ambition, groupee following, and globetrotting to promote his brand. It was also simply his words: “We are,” Friend said, beaming, “the Yoga of Yes.” (YogaSpy: Uh, okay.) “There’s no differentiation between yoga philosophy and business philosophy,” he said of Anusara. “We honor spirit, based on … Continue reading Why Anusara?

Yoga and hula

Growing up in Hawaii, all of us girls took hula lessons. But none of us considered ourselves “real” hula dancers. The serious dancers joined hula halau (schools), led by revered kumu hulu (hula teachers). And the top dancers view hula not as hobby but as lifestyle. Recently, I read “Aloha, Uncle” in the current issue of Hana Hou! and was struck by the parallels between yoga and hula. Not in the details, but in the attitude. The article honors the late George Na‘ope, a revered kumu hula who died last October at age 81. Etua Lopes, one of his students and … Continue reading Yoga and hula

Wearing the yoga teacher “hat”

My travel writer “hat” In one of my other lives, I write travel books on Hawaii. Recently, Erin, a fellow travel writer, and I chatted about how much longer we could do it. Yes, we agreed, everyone glamorizes the adventures of a travel writer, but the reality is more mundane (and grueling). Research trips are not vacations, lemme tell you! But, we agreed, we travel differently on assignment. It’s as if we’re wearing the travel writer “hat.” People approach us, willing to share their stories and secrets. Of course, people treat us differently because we act differently. We’re out and … Continue reading Wearing the yoga teacher “hat”