Friday, August 22, 2014

Tuesday August 26 2014 National Commemoration Day

B.K.S. Iyengar
December 14, 1918 - August 20, 2014
"I always tell people 'live happily and die majestically'".

To honor the memory of Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) invites us to do the following practice sequence at the same time in our homes or yoga studios on Tuesday, August 26.

For our time, Eastern Daylight Time, that is 8:30pm.

Since another group already uses our space at Harmony Yoga of Ann Arbor on Tuesday evenings, I'm encouraging you all to practice in your homes or wherever you are at that time.

The suggested sequence:*
Tadasana - 3 minutes
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Utthita Trikonasana - both sides
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Tadasana - 3 minutes

Sit quietly for 5 minutes

*If you don't know what these poses are,  scroll down to the end for the English translation.  Or make it part of your yoga practice to look up these poses and learn what they are (that's what I really recommend!)

Why is the suggested timing for Tadasana 3 minutes?   For this sequence you are using Tadasana as a meditative experience.   We haven't done this in class, but I think you will get a very different experience of the pose if you hold it for 3 minutes....or even one minute.   Try it and let me know what your experience is.

BKS Iyengar said about Tadasana:
“It is essential to master the art of standing correctly. One thousand things that apply to Tadasana apply to every other pose. See how much your intelligence has to peep in, has to go in, even to understand tadasana? When truly in tadasana, one feels light in body and the mind acquires agility.” 

Sitting quietly is also to reflect on the teachings and life of BKS Iyengar, or if you're not very familiar with his work, then reflect on your own yoga practice and experience in the classes you take.

And now the English translation of the sequence.  Look in books or search online if you are unsure of any of these poses.  Any of you who have been to Harmony Yoga for any length of time will be familiar with them.  Modify them how you need to, as you've been taught in classes.

Mountain Pose - 3 minutes
Standing forward bend
Downward Facing Dog pose
Triangle pose -- to the right, then to the left
Downward Facing Dog pose
Standing forward bend
Mountain pose - 3 minutes

Friday, May 30, 2014

Yoga Field Trip to Cleveland OH, August 2 & 3, 2014

© 2014 The Cleveland Museum of Art. All rights reserved.
The Cleveland Museum of Art will be hosting the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation this summer, June 22 through September 7, 2014.

This presentation is: "...the world’s first exhibition about yoga’s visual history, [and] will explore yoga’s meanings and transformations over time, including its entry into the global arena; yoga’s goals of spiritual enlightenment, worldly power and health and well-being; and the beauty and profundity of Indian art.

Works will include sculptural masterpieces of historical and divine yogis, exquisite Mughal paintings of militant yogis and romantic heroes, Islamic divination texts, fifteen-foot scrolls depicting the chakras (energy centers of the body), nineteenth-century photography and early films."

A few of us from the Ann Arbor area plan to visit the exhibit and we'll also take a special yoga class from  Iyengar Yoga teacher, Karen Allgire, at Green Tara Yoga and Healing Arts in Cleveland Heights.  We invite you to join us August 2 & 3, 2014, for this fun yoga-themed field trip!

  • Saturday August 2, Yoga class 11:30 -- 1:30  (see below)
  • Afternoon -- possible activities include Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, walking / hiking, or just taking it easy.  
  • Dinner in Cleveland Heights
  • Sunday August 3, 10am through early afternoon visit Cleveland Museum of Art for the Yoga exhibition
Please contact me if you are thinking about going from the Ann Arbor area, and I will email you more information about travel and lodging suggestions. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Does Concern Over Alignment "Muddy the Message" About Yoga?

 In the most recent issue of The Crazy Wisdom Community Journal ("Ann Arbor's Holistic Magazine") there's a short article written by another local yoga teacher.  It's a nice article, and I like most of what she has to say. (See p. 112,  Spring 2014 issue of the CW Journal.)

But partway through she writes:

"... I try not to hide the basic premise of what yoga is under a lot of technical pose alignments or the use of Sanskrit words.  I believe that muddies the message: yoga is not an esoteric practice that an ordinary person can't do.  Anyone can do it, even with mobility limitations."  

Of course I had to laugh, because she's referring to how Iyengar Yoga is taught.  And of course as an Iyengar Yoga teacher,  I completely disagree with this viewpoint.

A cornerstone of the Iyengar Yoga method is that we learn and practice good alignment in the poses.   On a very practical level, this focus on alignment helps us to do the poses safely while building up the body in a healthy way.    Distortions in alignment can lead to injuries.

Also this focus on alignment trains the mind to be attentive, to focus, to concentrate, to be present within the moment.  The second sutra (verse) of the ancient yoga text,  The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, says, "Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind".    The practice of yoga helps us to quiet ourselves, so we can start to see what is really important in our lives.   Focusing intently on the alignment of the body is one way to bring the mind to quietness.  It becomes a meditative practice as well as being a physical practice.  So "technical pose alignments" would help, not hinder, our understanding of "the basic premise of what yoga is" which is to quiet the mind.

Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher, John Schumacher, from the Washington D.C. area, says,

"As with all methods of yoga [the practice of Iyengar Yoga] builds strength and flexibility in the poses.  But because we pay exquisite attention to alignment and precision in the details of the asanas, the poses are for us a meditation in action.  We learn to focus, concentrate, and refine the quality of our awareness as we practice the poses."  (on YouTube video, John Schumacher teaches Virabhadrasana I)

So does this technical practice of alignment "muddy the message" of yoga, making it an esoteric practice that the average person can't do?   Of course not!  Learning better alignment is a very practical way to make the practice of yoga poses accessible to all.   Not paying attention to alignment can be especially injurious to people who are older, or who have health or mobility issues.  

Is Iyengar Yoga, with it's focus on learning good alignment in the poses, for everyone?   I certainly think it can be beneficial for everyone, but of course not everyone is interested in practicing this way.  Different temperaments are drawn to different ways of moving.  But I have seen how powerful this method is within my own practice, and in the practice of my yoga students at all levels, from those who need to move more slowly and gently,  to those who are stronger and fitter and want to be challenged by more difficult asanas.  

People with experience in other methods of yoga are sometimes puzzled or bored by the "technical jargon" that Iyengar Yoga teachers use.   But if they can stick with it, they also start to experience how powerful this method can be.    It can be used to enhance the practice that they're more familiar with.

As for using Sanskrit to name the poses or to quote a few philosophical ideas -- it's a part of the ancient tradition of yoga.   Is it completely necessary?  No, but it does pay honor to the roots of this tradition.   People get used to it very quickly and it is another way to keep the mind fresh and open to learning new things.  Where is the problem in that?

Look at the marvelous extension, vibrancy and vitality in this Utthita trikonasana (Triangle pose) by B.K.S. Iyengar when he was 85 years old.

This can't be done without "exquisite" attention to the alignment of his body, and the years of practice that went into training his body and  mind to be able to do the pose so beautifully and precisely.    It is a work of art.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Practice and Study More Yoga in 2014!

I have been practicing yoga now for 20 years.   That's a significant portion of my life!  Obviously I wouldn't have stuck with it for this long if I felt it hasn't been amazingly beneficial for me.

I signed up for my first yoga class in January, 1993, at the Ann Arbor YMCA as a part of a New Year's Resolution to do something good for myself.   I like to tell people that it was one of the few New Year's Resolutions that I've actually kept. 

(BTW, my first yoga teacher was Laura Roberts, who I am now honored to have as a student in one of my Gentle Yoga classes!)

Does your New Year's Resolution for 2014 include practicing more yoga?

 Develop Your Own Home Yoga Practice

A great way to bring more yoga into your life is to cultivate your own home practice along with taking a regular class with a well-trained teacher.

If you want some guidelines on what to practice, you can print off these Sequences for Practice on the IYNAUS (Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States) website.    There are four Level 1 sequences and four Level 2 sequences available.

Those of you who've been taking classes from me for awhile have probably already seen these practice sheets, but you can check it out again if you don't have copies of these sequences already printed out.

Learn More By Reading and Studying

The yoga classes I teach mostly cover asanas, or yoga poses.  But the practice of yoga is so much more than that! 

There are a number of excellent Iyengar Yoga books available that will give you a more in-depth look at the full practice of yoga.    Some books will focus mostly on the asanas (postures) with some discussion of the other aspects of yoga.  Other books focus more on the philosophy of yoga as a whole.

A post that I wrote a few months ago gives a quick review of four books that I especially recommend:
Iyengar Yoga Books - My Recommendations

Also read 10 Best Iyengar Yoga Books for more ideas.

Take More Yoga Classes

People who take regular classes progress more quickly than people who take an occasional class.  And people who take more than one yoga class a week show even more progress of course.   If you have time in your life to take more than one class / week, I highly recommend it. 

Those of you who take classes with me have seen that you get a nice discount on fees if you take more than one class a week.   (see Harmony Yoga classes and fees)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Yoga Christmas Card

I usually don't promote items like this on the Harmony Yoga blog, but I was looking for a fun Yoga card to celebrate the holidays and I found this on Zazzle.

Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Rudolph are shown happily holding some nice-looking yoga poses:
  • Rudolph is doing Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
  • Mrs. Claus is in Paripurna navasana (Full Boat)
  • Santa is in Vasisthasana (Side plank named after the sage Vasistha)
Inside the card is, "May the spirit of the season move you."

These aren't mass-produced cards that you'd find in Hallmarks, so they do cost a little more, but they're also very unique!

Greeting card size is $3.15 / card with discounts at 10, 20, and 50 cards (more if you buy larger amounts).   A note card is $2.60, again with discounts.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mary Dunn -- Demonstration of Standing Poses at the 1990 Convention

Those of you who have taken my classes have heard me talk about Mary Dunn, one of my favorite visiting yoga teachers.

Mary grew up in Ann Arbor and was the daughter of Mary Palmer, who was instrumental in bringing B.K.S. Iyengar to Ann Arbor in the early 1970s. This was the beginning of the popularization of Iyengar Yoga in the United States.

 Mary Dunn was the founding director of the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS), and a founder of the Iyengar Yoga institutes in San Francisco, San Diego, and then New York City.

She was one of the teachers who came back to Ann Arbor every year to teach a weekend series of workshops (such as Manouso Manos still does). Mary was very clear in her teachings, calm and compassionate with her dealings with students, and had a great sense of humor. She was also an excellent teacher of teachers -- I took a number of teacher training classes from her.

This video shows Mary demonstrating a series of standing poses. You can see the vibrancy, control, and extension in her poses as she moves from one pose to another to another. The stance is a little different in some of the poses than what we might teach now, i.e. the distance between the feet might be wider in Parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle pose). I noticed that her heel is up in Parivrtta parsvakonasana (revolved lateral angle pose). That was good to see, because I can't keep my heel down either in that pose!! (Keep it down if you can.)

I hadn't started yoga at that point -- I started three years later, in 1993.  

She died from complications of cancer in 2008, at age 66.   You can read this very nice obituary about Mary in the New York Times.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Iyengar Yoga With Gabriella Giubilaro - Video

Here's a great video for you to get practice ideas from, especially for next week when there'll be no classes at Harmony Yoga.

Gabriella Giubilaro is an Iyengar Yoga teacher from Italy who studies almost every year with B.K.S. Iyengar and his daughter Geeta.

Notes about the video, and suggestions for practice:
  • The first 3 1/2 minutes are for show only -- to inspire and maybe to make you laugh :-)
  • Many poses are shown in this video.  You might decide to do just half, or even less. 
  • Do the poses as you know how to do them, with the props you need.  Gabriella shows some variations if you can't do without props, but also use your own judgement. Work intelligently.
  • The list of the poses is after the video.
Observe how strong she is in these asanas.   She is very controlled and precise with her movements.  A steady body indicates a steady, focused mind.

Here's a Yoga Journal interview with Gabriella. Talking Shop With Gabriella Giubilaro

 For more info on these poses, refer to recommended Iyengar Yoga books.

Sequence of poses in this video:
Vajrasana with parvatasana - Sit on heels, clasp hands, stretch palms up
Virasana  - Sit between heels

Paripurna navasana - Full boat pose

Urdhva prasarita padasana - Leg lifts

Jathara parivartanasana - legs to side (supine twist, knees bent or legs straight)

Ubbhaya padangustasana - Hold toes, lift legs up

Supta padangusthasana - supine leg stretch

Anantasana - lying on side, leg stretch

Adho mukha svanasana -- Downward facing dog
Jump to Uttanasana - Standing forward bend
Come up to Tadasana - standing pose

Utkatasana -- arms up, knees bent
Garudhasana - Eagle Pose
Vrksasana - Tree pose

Utthita Parsvakonasana  #1 (down arm in front of bent knee) - side angle pose variation

Utthita trikonasana - Triangle pose

Utthita Parsvakonasana #2 (regular way, down arm behind bent knee) - side angle pose

Virabhadrasana II - Warrior II

Ardha chandrasana - Half moon pose

Parivrtta trikonasana - Revolved triangle pose

Parsvottanasana (paschimonamaskarasana hands, or hands to blocks, chair) - intense side stretch standing forward bend

Prasarita padottanasana - wide legged standing forward bend

Uttanasana  hold elbows - standing forward bend
Padangusthasana -- standing forward bend, hold big toes
Padahastasana -- standing forward bend, hands under feet

Adho mukha svanasana
Rest (Adho mukha virasana)

Sirsasana -- head balance

Chaturanga dandasana (or I might do urdhva mukha svanasana) -- plank pose (or instead do upward facing dog)
Ustrasana -- Camel pose
Swastikasana -- forward -- Cross legged seated pose going forward
Swastikasana  twist

Chair bharadvajasana -- twist, sitting through back of chair

Marichyasana III -- seated twist, one knee up, twist across bent leg.

Sarvangasana -- shoulderstand -- Come to Halasana (plow pose)  first -- roll to top of shoulders, first w/arms bend then clasp hands behind.   Then place strap and come up.

Halasana - clasp hands behind

Janu sirsasana -- seated forward bend, one knee bent out to side
Paschimottanasana -- seated forward bend -- both legs straight

Upavistha Konasana -- wide angle seated pose
With twist

Baddha Konasana -- bound angle pose

Supta virasana -- supine virasana
Supta baddha konasana -- supine baddha konasana

Savasasana -- corpse pose