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

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

The end of the story

The other day, waiting at a bus stop, I noticed a well-dressed man racing to catch his bus. The last passenger was already boarding, and drivers are notorious for zooming off. A few onlookers turned to see whether he caught it. (He did.) That’s human nature, I thought to myself: We want to know what happened. If I get halfway through a disappointing book or dud movie, I often forge through to the end, for closure. If I hear an anecdote, I’m especially curious to know the end result. Obituaries (or even, forgive me, the name-dropping New York Times Wedding/Celebrations … Continue reading The end of the story

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

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

The element of risk

When was the last time you took an exam that mattered? During my end-of-summer trip to California, an acquaintance asked about my training to be a certified Iyengar yoga teacher. I gave him the gist, describing how the training program, while international in scope, is small and selective, mentor-based, and lengthy. And then there is assessment. To be certified, one must pass a national assessment, by an objective panel of senior teachers, of one’s practice and teaching. Put another way, one can fail. In many teacher-training programs, participation is enough! I’ve experienced a couple of assessments as a “student,” and … Continue reading The element of risk

Yoga Journal: the music issue

The September 2011 issue of Yoga Journal is “the music issue.” It contains a home practice sequence synced with an MC Yogi playlist, interviews with musicians who do yoga, and a look at the kirtan spectacle in America. The online magazine offers Funky Love Songs, “some of the grooviest, most genre-bending forms of mantra music in the yoga world.” Should we care what Alanis Morissette (cover model), Bonnie Raitt, Moby, Ziggy Marley, and Maroon 5 band members say about yoga? Well, I’m a willing listener of stories and opinions (on yoga, on whatever)—if someone has something to say. I wrote about doing … Continue reading Yoga Journal: the music issue

Hooping and the hybridization of yoga in America

Nature, its three qualities, sattva, rajas, and tamas, and its evolutes, the elements, mind, senses of perception and organs of action, exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment (bhoga) or emancipation (apavarga). Yoga Sutra II.18, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, BKS Iyengar Yoga and hula hooping? Yes, according to an August 2011 Yoga Journal article, “You Spin Me Round”: Hoop-yoga is trendy among Anusara yoga practitioners. The magazine profiles performer Shakti Sunfire (aka Laura Blakeman), who’s “part whirling dervish, part pinup girl, and 100 percent yogini.” It quotes Anusara’s founder, John Friend: “Hooping rocks.” My reaction was mixed. On … Continue reading Hooping and the hybridization of yoga in America

Do you have a Geeta story?

A rite of passage for Iyengar yoga practitioners is a trip to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI) in Pune—to study directly with the Iyengars. Of course, BKS Iyengar is 92. Unless you met him in the 1970s or ’80s (or possibly the ’90s), it’s too late to make a personal connection now. It’s probably likewise with Geeta and Prashant, the son and daughter carrying his mantle. They, too, have taught thousands of students worldwide. Does it matter that I’m only a “grandstudent” of the Iyengars? Mr Iyengar is a conceptual teacher so I can certainly learn from his writings and … Continue reading Do you have a Geeta story?

Showing skin

When being assessed for Iyengar certification, teacher candidates are not supposed to show skin. In other words, no low-cut necklines, no skimpy tanks, no bare midriffs. (I don’t know if this is an official rule or unwritten protocol.) This topic arose recently in light of the pose sarvangasana (shoulderstand). Don’t most of us do sarvangasana with palms against the skin of our backs? “Skin on skin” gives the best traction: to hold the palms in place, pressing rib cage and shoulder blades inward and upward. But that means reaching underneath your top, which falls open (at least halfway), showing skin. … Continue reading Showing skin

Grandstudents

My ending should be your beginning. BKS Iyengar Last week, the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Carol W. Greider and Jack W. Szostak. A friend of mine was the first postdoc of Greider’s first postdoc. When Greider won the Nobel Prize, it polished her academic pedigree. She’s now the “grandstudent” of a Nobel Prize winner. This made me think about my “degrees of separation” from BKS Iyengar. My current main teacher regularly studies with Geeta, Prashant, and BKS Iyengar himself. Unless I immediately apply to study at RIMYI in Pune, I will never … Continue reading Grandstudents