Friday, June 28, 2013

Yoga - it's not a workout!

At the Mysore Palace in the early 20th Century, Yoga Master Tirumalai Krishnamacharya was teaching yoga to young men.   The yoga he was teaching to these teen and pre-teen boys looks much like calisthenics of today (see picture). 

Since young pre-pubescent boys are so active and physical (and limber), they took to Krishnamacharya's teaching right away.  Many students seemed to master the poses early on.   Some students continued to practice these "active" asanas for many years to come. Two of these young boys where BKS Iyengar (Krishnamacharya's brother-in-law) and the late Pattabhi Jois (pictured).



Pattabhi Jois passed away in 2009 at the age of 93.   Mr. Iyengar (born in 1918) is now 94 years old and still practices several hours of asana a day.   Krishnamacharya (born in 1888) lived to 101 years of age.   The longevity of these yogis is interesting since the life expectancy of India prior to 1950 was less than 36 years old!

The yoga these men practiced in later years changed dramatically from what they practiced as young school boys.

Mr. Iyengar is quoted as saying..."When I was young, I played. Now I stay."   Mr. Iyengar's practiced changed from active movements to long "holding" of poses. 

In fact, in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (approx. 200 BCE) the main sutra on "asana" (2:48) says that the pose should be steady, firm, fixed and happy (Sutra 2:48 - Sthira Sukham Asanam).

The next two sutras of Patanjali's Sutras state that  "...perfection in asana is not an outward appearance - but rather that perfection occurs when the effort to do the pose becomes effortless and the infinite being within (the atman) is recognized.   Then, once that is accomplished, the practitioner no longer will suffer from duality."

Thus, asana is "work in" not a "work out" - a meditation on the infinite being within.  

This is why I hold the pose in my practice.   .

The use of props enables me to hold the pose longer - and to give "life" to the prop (the chair, the block, the belt, bolster, blanket). 

I'm not interested in "getting a sweat", in "working out"... in getting "tight abs" - but all those things happen (except the sweat).  I am stronger, firmer, more flexible than I've been in 40 years.  But that's not why I do the practice.  I do it for my mind - and to explore the deepest depths of my being, my soul.  I practice yoga to discover the atman within.   My yoga is a "work in".... - a work in progress!

Namaste.

 
 




 

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The 7-Truth's of Being a (Consistent) Yoga Teacher

I've been reading quite a few blogs lately about "being a great yoga teacher"   After reading these I realize that I'm probably not that great of a yoga teacher - at least according to other blogs I read.  

Yet I think I know a few things about being a consistent yoga teacher.  

I think being consistent is everything.  Especially when it comes to yoga.  The entire practice of yoga is predicated on constant and sustained practice over a long-period of time.  (Yoga Sutra 1:12).   That Sutra is my definition of consistency. 

So here's my 7-Truths of Being a Consistent Yoga Teacher

#1 - Do your own personal yoga practice every day - even if it's only 10 minutes of asana a day

#2 - Teach a Yoga class every day - even if it's a free community class

#3 - Always start and end every class on time

#4 - Always teach what you practice

#5 - Do you best to work with everyone in the class equally - showing no favoritism or avoidance

#6 - Do your best to use individual names and treat everyone with dignity and respect

#7 - Always thank everyone for coming to your class.  Not because you need the attendance numbers - but because they are a gift to you - to make you a better teacher.

Do that every day - for a year and write me back and let me know how it worked for you.  It's been working well for me.

 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Great Souls live among us

I returned home early this morning from a two-day Yoga Alliance Leadership Conference in Palm Springs.  What stands out the most for me as I reflect upon the weekend were all the amazing and wonderful people who I met. People that are so dedicated to the practice and business of yoga in the United States. These are people who are yogi's in all areas of their life.  They are flowing with integrity and with the joy of living.  They are alive and vibrant.  The prana moves forcefully through them all and it shines through their eyes and smiles.  They are yogi's in how they run their businesses, how they develop relationships in their lives, and how they interact with the world at large.  Oh, and they're pretty good at practicing poses on the mat too!

There are 6 people in particular that I want to share with you.  Two of these people I knew before I went - but now I know better.  One person I knew of - a facebook friend, but we never met until this weekend.  And three people who were unknown to me before the weekend, but now are destined to be intertwined in my dharmic journey

Two I knew - but now know better:

Baxter Bell, MD - Many people know Baxter as he is a nationally recognized yoga authority, teacher, author, blogger and wonderful musician.  I truly saw Baxter's joy for living and child-like energy when the after-lunch cookies came out and he grabbed three.  Baxter continues to travel throughout the country and to local studios offering solid yoga to a hungry community.

Diane Valentine -  Diane is a loving, caring yogi.  A cancer-survior, studio owner and daily practitioner she quietly goes about her practice.  She knows that constant practice will bring the results.  Diane has a wonderful story which I hope all can read about some day.  Diane??  That's you're hint to get the outline on the book done this week (hint, hint).

One I sort of knew - but finally met:

Cora Wen-  Cora is an international yoga teacher who offers 500-hour yoga trainings among other yogic services.  Cora, orginally born and raised in Hong Kong, became a very high-powered commercial banker prior to turning to yoga to heal.  Cora is driven and passionate and is committed in the deepest recesses of her heart to insure that the purest yogic traditions and practices are preserved for future generations.  Soon she'll be off to Asia including the countries of Malasia and Bhutan.

Three I never knew but know now:

Bhava Ram is a former war correspondent who after a broken-back, failed surgery and stage-4 cancer dove deep into the abyss where many never return.  Yet, Bhava Ram found yoga and has truly been reborn.  I am honored to call him my brother and my new found friend.

Joan Dwyer - Joan understands.  Those two words say so much to me.  Joan lives in Rhode Island and started her yoga business and healing center "All that Matters" in 1995 and in 17 years has become the spiritual, economic and community hub of her Downtown in Wakefield, RI.   She understands the practical application of spiritual principles in a way I've never seen.  She realizes that each person's vision is the seed to their creation and joy.  She is a mother of five grown children and she's seen it all in operating a healing business.

Scott Klienfield - Scott exemplifies the yogic tradition of discernment combined with ananda (bliss).  He is a sharp, insightful business man who deeply examines truth.  That could be the truth in what your students are telling you, the truth about what your numbers and trends tell you about your business - or the truth about whether your practice is honest or not.   Scott completed his "Life of a Yogi" training with Sri Dharma Mittra.  Scott is a very smart young man with a very solid yoga practice. I'm looking forward to get to know Scott more in the future.

Each of these 6 people moved me deeply and have already had a profound impact on my life.  They make me realize that great souls live among us - and are us.  We share a common joy and we all face our demons and challenges - but as yogi's - we face them with grace, dignity and with the practice and incredible power of yoga.





Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yoga Alliance Leadership Conference 2012

I am attending the 2012 Yoga Alliance Leadership Conference this weekend (Oct 25-28, 2012) at Indian Wells, CA.   The theme of the conference is "Transformation through Yoga".  This event is for yoga teachers only.   I'm especially looking forward to attending the business "break-out" sessions.  Some of the topics include:
  • Tapping into your vision and purpose for your studio
  • Are you running your business or is it running you (I think I know the answer to this!)
  • What it means to run a yoga business
  • Holistic Marketing: Transform your Income and Beliefs about your Yoga Business
Additionally - there is a "movie night" on Friday night with The premiere screening of

The First Tribute to Professor Sri T. Krishnamacharya in America

And - a Kirtan on Saturday night called "Rhythm of the Heart" with the Mayapuris

So needless to say, I'm super excited.  

See you all back in class on Monday morning!

    Friday, June 8, 2012

    Pain is the Touchstone

    A good friend and spiritual advisor has often said to me, "Pain is the touchstone of all Spiritual Growth."

    I used to really hate it when he said that. I don't hate it now. But swallowing the truth of it isn't always that easy.

    Most of the growth in my life has been preceded by various amounts of pain. All past pain in my life has provided fertile ground for future growth - whether I saw it that way or not!

    Before going forward I think it's a good idea to define what I mean by Spiritual Growth. It simply means that I grow, deepen and develop Spiritual qualities such as: Patience, Love, Tolerance, Forgiveness, Humility, Service, Compasssion, Honesty, Peace, etc.

    So now the examples of painful past experiences: I lost a job, I embarassed myself, I hurt my body, I made a mistake, I said something I shouldn't have, I failed, I dissapointed someone - all painful events.  What's on the other side of these episodes? An opportunity to reflect, contemplate and improve the quality of my Spirit - OR - an opportunity to continue the cycle of pain.

    My inital and habitual responses to events such as those listed above used to be to defend, deflect, defer and cover-up. Pride would not want me to look bad. Fear would make sure I didn't. Anger would be my weapon if I was ever questioned. Silent regret would continue to smolder in my mind and heart. And thus the pain would fester and multiply creating more painful events.  

    The Yoga Sutras say,.. all future pain can and should be avoided - but how to do that?

    I have to look the pain straight in the eye and ask it what it wants to teach me? When in pain I have to ask myself what part I played in bringing this on. Where was I selfish, self-centered, dishonest or afraid? Where did I try to force my opinions, motives and beliefs (no matter how well-intended) upon someone or some circumstance? Where was I arrogantly trying to play God - trying to control life's events to suit my desires and will? (Yuck!) 

    When I look at my pain in this way I see that it's usually me that sets the pain pill in motion. For me, seeing the truth of who I am and how I really behave is the most painful pill to swallow. I don't like seeing myself like that. But I'm human and I sometimes walk far off the beam. I make mistakes. I do stupid shit. Yet, if there's any hope for growth - Spiritual Growth - I have to take the medicine, swallow the pill and get honest with myself about what I've brought into any situation - and then, I have to discover what Spiritual Quality should be brought into the situation to make it right. Then I can right the wrong, grow up and act like the man I was born to become. 

    Pain is the Touchstone.



    Monday, March 19, 2012

    Road Warrior

    I'm going to be 55 years old this year. My yoga teacher is 58 this year. His yoga teacher will be 94 this year. One old man - one older man - one SUPER old man. But all three of us practice yoga every day.

    By the time a person reaches 30 years of age - there's a good chance they have racked up a few bumps and bruises. - perhaps a scar here or there, and maybe even a surgery or two.

    By the time a person reaches 40 years of age more wear and tear on the body may be visible including stiffer backs, knees, shoulders and hips.

    At 50 years of age a person realizes that they are no longer a "spring chicken" and that they need to do "something" to at least maintain flexibilty, strength and range of motion. At this point in a person's life they may know other people who have had debilitating injuries or illnesses and these facts frighten them - wake them up!

    At 60 it's a necessity to maintain whatever health and fitness (mind, body and spirit fitness) one has - otherwise it can be a painful ride throughout the rest of their lives.

    This is why Yoga is so important. It's also important to know what KIND and type of practice a person should do based on age, fitness level and a number of other factors.

    The practice my teacher's teacher does (at 94) is unlike my practice (at 54).

    What is critically important as one practices yoga at more advanced ages is a relentless focus on absolutely precise alignment to avoid the risk of injury or setback. Furthermore a focus on supporting poses and motions with props and support to avoid other problems.

    This is why Iyengar yoga (created by that 94 year old practitioner above) is so important as a yoga modality. Mr. Iyengar created a process, practice and method that anyone at any age can get involved with and benefit from.

    No matter what shape you're in - no matter how many miles on your frame - any Road Warrior can benefit from Yoga.

    Thursday, January 5, 2012

    Sit your mind down in that pose!

    The other day a student asked me the following questions:

    "Jim, why do you hold the poses for as long as you do? How long should we be holding each pose? What's the rule of thumb?"

    I'll answer the latter questions first. The rule of thumb is that you hold the pose to one's capacity. So what does that mean? Well, you don't hold the pose if you're struggling - if your face is clenched, if your breath is rapid, erratic or held, if you're in pain or discomfort, or if you're frustrated or angry. This could mean that you may hardly hold a pose more than a second or two when others in class may be able to hold it for much longer. Some poses are easier to hold for longer durations than others. Tadasana (standing), or Savasana (lying down), can be held for a very long time for most people. Yet other poses, such as Bhakasana (crow pose -balancing on your hands) may be very short in duration. To one's capacity means just that - if you're not capable of doing it, then you don't do it. But then the question becomes - "how does one develop the capacity?" The answer is - over time and with intelligent practice. It takes time and consistent, dedicated practice.

    Now to the first question - WHY? Why hold the pose for so long? Some (in fact, most) yoga classes have you moving from pose-to-pose in a flow or vinyasa sequence. Some yoga classes have you really "get a workout" and "break a sweat" as they move from pose to pose. What's the value of holding the pose for so long? The main reason we hold the poses for extended durations is to "sit the mind down" and get it still. Yoga is for the mind as much as it is for the body. In fact, it may have a deeper and more profound impact on the mind than it does on the body. At least that's what the ancient Yoga Sutras say. Scientific research is still looking into this phenomenon. Let me give a few examples of what I'm talking about. Imagine you're in a pose and you're starting to reach your capacity in the pose. What starts to happen? Your mind begins to talk to you. A conversation starts in your head that may sound something like this: "This hurts! I can't do this. I must not be very good at this. Other people look better in the pose. I'm not having as much fun as I did when I was doing the flow yoga class last week." Your mind will say any number of things as you near your capacity. So the challenge is not really the PHYSICAL aspect of the pose so much as it is the MENTAL WALLS and RESTRICTIONS that the mind puts in front of you. What usually happens? The mind wins out, and thus we become slave to the master mind. The mind talks you into its illusion that you can't, that you aren't as good, that it's not as fun. You give up. You stay restricted within the narrow walls of the mind's world. It's a dark hallway of limitations. Over time we experience a daily death of the soul as we never really experience life fully.

    All life is an experience. All experience is felt in the body. I believe that if you are able to experience anything in the body (even death - which is truly the only once in a lifetime experience) with a still mind - then you have succeeded in life at the highest human level. This is the promise that yoga offers. To experience all of life's challenges, mysteries, trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows with a still mind. But you have to be willing to wait for it. So that's why we hold the pose - to sit that mind down in it's seat - the seat is the asana.

    Peace.