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

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

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

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

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?

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?

Stop fidgeting

I recently took a yoga class with Yves Oberlin, an Austin-based Iyengar teacher who was subbing for my teacher Louie Ettling. He gave us a relatively generous eight-minute savasana, first instructing to find the pose in our bodies, tucking our shoulders under and so forth. Then he said, “After a while, don’t move. Don’t keep adjusting and re-adjusting. Just accept that this is the way things are.” (Something to that effect.) Who knows about my classmates’ reactions, but that struck me as a profound statement. Sure, he was referring to an asana, but I projected it to life itself. Don’t … Continue reading Stop fidgeting