Yoga… and the rest of your life

A few years ago, I was walking along the seawall at Kitsilano Beach. There’s a segment where the seawall separates the path from a drop (Six feet? Eight feet?) to the beach below. A friend I’ll call MJ dared me to walk atop the seawall. It’s encouragingly over a foot wide. But would I risk toppling from a height greater than my own? “Hold my hand,” I said. “Then I’ll try it.” “That would be only for practice.” “You’ve got to be joking. No thanks!” At that moment, a man and his dog approached us from the opposite direction. The dog–a short-legged … Continue reading Yoga… and the rest of your life

An Iyengar yogini in a flow yoga class

During my Lonely Planet research trip to Hawaii, I dropped on 75-minute classes at two Hilo studios: Balancing Monkey and Yoga Centered. Neither offers Iyengar yoga , but one teacher’s bio mentioned that she’s in training for Intro II certification. Curious, I attended her “basics” class–and a half-priced “community flow” class at the other studio. Guess which is which: SEQUENCE 1 Sukhasana (on two adjacent blocks) Adho Mukha Virasana Spinal Stretch (to wall) Vrksasana (back against wall) Garudasana (legs only) Virabhadrasana I (front foot on two blocks stacked against wall) Parsvakonasana Dandasana (on bolster) Marichysana I (on bolster) Marichyasana III (on bolster) … Continue reading An Iyengar yogini in a flow yoga class

Do a pose, change your mood

Ask those new to yoga why they’re doing it. Chances are, they’ll cite physical fitness: I’m so tight. I can’t touch my toes. I need to stretch. I’m rehabbing my back. Etc. Certainly yoga improves flexibility, strength, balance, and coordination. But what about mood? Can asana–the “mere” act of doing a pose–affect your mental state? Iyengar yogis would say, “Of course.” In Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar describes poses not only in terms of technique, but also in their effects on body and mind. Further, the realm of yoga therapy addresses not only physical but mental conditions, such as depression and … Continue reading Do a pose, change your mood

In defense of wearing glasses while doing yoga

When I first started practicing yoga in Berkeley, I wore contact lenses all the time. Then a friend commented that wearing contacts permanently enlarges blood vessels in the eye. “Look at people who’ve never worn contacts,” he said. “The whites of their eyes are much whiter.” He was right. So my original vanity to avoid being a “girl in glasses” bowed to my wiser vanity to maintain clear, bright eyes for the rest of my life. I experimented with wearing glasses during physical activity: Working out at the gym (fine). Running (troublesome). Swimming using Rx goggles (surprisingly fine). Yoga (fine). I tried … Continue reading In defense of wearing glasses while doing yoga

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

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

Forced stillness

The other day, I returned to the MRI clinic where I got my knee scanned last summer. (I wanted more of the orange foam earplugs given to patients. They look ordinary but block noise better than any others I’ve tried. I use them when it’s not quiet enough for sleep.) In the elevator, I met a woman also heading to the MRI clinic. She was due for a second scan, and she was anxious: the noise, the tunnel, the claustrophobia. She even brought a friend for support. I’d experienced the exact opposite reaction. Weird as it might seem, I rather … Continue reading Forced stillness

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?

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?