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

Pelvic tilt: how much is too much?

A few months ago, one of my original yoga teachers, Donald Moyer, observed my Tadasana. Under his scrutiny, I tried extra hard to perfect my pose. To my surprise, he said, “You’re tucking your pelvis.” What? If left to its own devices, my body is overly mobile in the lumbar spine. I am a natural pelvic “tilter.” I typically get corrected for too much anterior tilt. Was I overcorrecting? Donald observed that I was clenching the gluteus maximus, i.e., buttocks, and the external hip rotators. He advised me to soften and spread instead–to correct excess tilt by lifting through the anterior vertebrae. (An aside: “buttocks” must be among the top 10 … Continue reading Pelvic tilt: how much is too much?

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

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

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

Remembering a teacher’s teachings

Last summer I got into the annual weeklong intensive taught by Donald Moyer and Mary Lou Weprin of The Yoga Room in Berkeley. One day, Donald explored backbends, including Eka Pada Rajakapotasana I, with a strap looped around the rear foot. As I ventured deeper into the pose, he looked at me and commented that I “should” be able to touch my toes. By “should,” he meant that I was close, but working the wrong way. I was gripping the strap and pulling my way deeper. With a touch of amusement, he said “It’s not rock climbing. It’s diving backward.” He … Continue reading Remembering a teacher’s teachings