I just keep coming back to this, the idea that you don’t really own things in this world. I mean, you can have a car, or a house, but in the end you won’t have it anymore. And whether you had a big house, or a little house won’t really matter.
“The things that you own end up owning you.” – Fight Club
Material possessions are far less valuable than time or love or relationships, and to a certain extent you only need so much. Maslow, a 19th century psychologist, created a hierarchy of needs, and I think the second level of safety would be the level where material possessions are most important. Too much of it can take away from self-actualization, the highest point on the pyramid.
Self-actualization could also be considered enlightenment, self-knowledge such as the Buddha describes. Getting there requires a great deal of balance in life that is hardly obtained from obsession with material possessions. Sometimes having less can lead to more happiness. And often, people are wealthy for a reason. But the key is to detach from wealth altogether. Neither path is better nor worse, but each is beautiful in its own merits. Appreciate where you are and what life offers you.
It seems like no matter what you are doing, you are always trying to find a balance between two opposing forces. It happens in surfing, snowboarding, biking, running, swimming, football tackles, rugby, relationships, daily routines, and even yoga. And when you’re riding an edge, time seems to slow, I really think it can signify true growth.
In yoga, its that edge of discomfort that becomes relaxation at the end of a class or practice. Starting to stretch initially isn’t too fun for anyone. But once you get started, it just feels so good, spending an hour and a half doing becomes easy. Hot yoga also boasts some incredible health benefits, and one of the cool things that it allows for is riding edges within your body.
So similar to a surfer riding a wave, or a skier plowing down a mountain at full speed, yogis experience a deepening and fulfilling practice because they get to see what their body is capable of. It is a deepening practice with fulfilling rewards.
Riding edges also allows people to dissolve their limits. No one really knows what they are capable of, they just have ideas and expectations. Expectations can be dangerous, because you don’t react to what is presently before you, you react to what used to be.
I seem to keep coming back to the Bikram Sequence. I did it in Paris for 3 months when I was 20, it was pretty cool to do the sequence in French and English. I love the chair sequence and I definitely have been missing that work lately. I also love the standing sequence, it is extremely energizing (not to mention exhausting).
I really got a push in this direction today when I started thinking more about hot classes and teaching them. Gotta learn to love holding eagle and chair. Also going have to start working on forehead to knee again, and lots of dancer. Here’s an example hot class standing sequence that I might teach:
Kabalabati – meditation – Ujjayi
Chair – Mountain – Chair
Eagle – Eka Pada Padagustasana, repeat
Mountain – Eagle, repeat
Mountain – Dancer – Warrior 3, repeat
Warrior 3 – mountain, repeat
Tree – mountain – repeat
Prasarita – arms in reverse ragdoll – arms extended behind back
Triangle – reverse triangle, prasarita, repeat
Extended Cobra, repeat
Hero – Camel, repeat
Janu Sirsasana B, repeat
Sulpine Spinal Twists
I really just wish there were better ending stretching poses in the Bikram sequence, that’s all.
It’s too bad about Bikram Choudry’s personal life (not that I have any sympathy, but apparently he is getting charged for rape by 3 different people). Seems like the power goes to people’s head? I guess that’s what happens when you do the same thing over and over and over again? I have no idea. But the yoga poses are great, I gotta hand it to him.
It’s kind of funny, both he and Baptiste pose next to water in their pictures. I’m wondering if I should start taking pictures of the poses in different angles for reference for people on the web, but it all seems so pretentious. Maybe I should go by the American River this summer?
“The body is an amazing apparatus. There is no limit to what it can do—and to what the mind can do also. Constantly people ignore this, make the body a bad thing, a thing to be ignored, hidden, ashamed of, abused, misused. This is the greatest most single crime we can commit against the god, to treat stupidly the wonderful thing that has been given us.”
(I originally wrote this article before India. I’ve added on section devoted to my experiences in Mysore, India with Saraswathi Jois)
I love Ashtanga. I wish I had a morning Ashtanga practice that I could do every day with a teacher leading, maybe 2 hours. Ashtanga is a system of Hatha (physical yoga) that is extremely challenging and takes a long time to work into. You can tell pretty easily if someone does Ashtanga, just watch them go into plank and lower into chataranga and you’ll know. They don’t shrug their shoulders at all and it looks like they’ve done it a million times and can jump to handstand at any moment. Like a feather. That’s because they have done it a million times and they can jump to handstand at any moment.
Practicing Ashtanga in Mysore, India
In January 2015 I left Sacramento to travel to Mysore, India for three month in one of the poorest and most interesting countries in the world. Mysore is relatively peaceful and is one of the more religious places in all of India.
I arrived in Bangalore and traveled to Mysore over the course of another 7 hour drive. The Jois Shala, where the Ashtanga yoga method is now taught by Patthabhi Jois’ descendants to people that sign up in advanced to study with them.
Saraswathi Jois is a kindhearted and very loving older woman who looks fierce in her defense of her father’s tradition. Her ability to guide individuals in the primary series is powerful if guided by your own knowledge of limitations, injuries, and anatomical quirks that may exist in your body. No one in India will be able to reconcile these type of unique individualities for you, simply because the science and education are not at high enough levels yet.
Sharath looks a bit more imposing than Saraswathi, but is more accomplished in the series. I did not have a chance to practice with him, did not feel drawn to.
In modern Ashtanga there is a lot of forcing, which is not something I consider to be a truly mindful yoga practice. India taught me a lot about how to work within my own body and within a week of practicing yoga in Mysore I hurt my knee doing poses I had no business doing. I was forcing. I returned over the next fews days determined to be gentler and softer with myself and it worked. In a week I was 95% better.
Ashtanga is no replacement for science. Remember to educate yourself with your own unique anatomy, each pose is different in each skeleton.
Ashtanga in Boston
In Boston, I practiced at Back Bay and they had an Ashtanga class that was 2 hours every day and I tried it out. It was self led, so you did 5 sun salutation A, 5 sun salutation B (add chair & warrior 1), then straight into the standing series. We practiced until the end of the primary series and the teacher might talk to you about your practice for a minute. Maybe.
It was not fun to have the seasoned teacher of 15 years leave for a month-long vacation and have the sub teach, especially when the regular teacher wasn’t amazing to begin with. That’s when my practice at Back-Bay ended for a while, I was pretty disappointed. But I started to practice the primary series on my own and now I have a personal Ashtanga practice. Taking ownership of a personal practice is pretty powerful. In the end, it all kind of worked out (minus two months of paid yoga that I didn’t get to use for Ashtanga).
Ashtanga is an intensely personal practice. Anyone who has an regular Ashtanga practice will likely care about it a lot. You have to really regulate yourself, because its really easy to get injured doing scorpion poses and handstand lion’s breathes. I recommend some good prana-yama 30 minutes before practicing an Ashtanga series or class, it will mean a big difference in your prana passageways.
Ashtanga’s primary series can be really fun. Triangle, Prasaritta, Hasta padagustasana, Navasana, and Kurmasana are some of the first poses you will do after Sun Salutations and they are really great poses for the body to experience. Lots of inversion to help bloodflow and circulation of cerebral-spinal fluid. Not to mention the increased circulation because of sun salutes.
I found a studio in Sacramento that might offer good classes with a guy named Bill. This combined with Fridays at LEAP with Karen from 1 to 3 should make up my led Ashtanga classes. Maybe I can do it 3 times a week? 5-7 would be my ideal, but even that is very taxing, Ashtanga practices can be over two hours if you need it. Which happens.
I also think that yoga will evolve from the existing Ashtanga practice, which it seems has been lacking since Jois’ death. Iyengar is definitely a great teacher, and less controversial. I feel like Ashtanga type of yoga is destined to evolve. Maybe it already does somewhere…
Kale is fresh and in season because it loves frost and winter’s chill. The plant is used all over the world in various dishes and is noted for its versatility. Kale can even make good chips, though I don’t like them.
Some people really don’t like the taste, but I don’t mind it in salads, or cooked with some light oil. Cooking of course alters the nutrient properties, but there is so much awesome stuff in Kale that you are still getting massive amounts of nutrition.
Here are the nutritional properties of the flower-like veggie, they are pretty incredible:
Beta Carotine – interesting nutrient, small amounts seem to be really healthy
Vitamin K – super good for us, from leafy vegetables (photosynthesis), greases the metabolic passageways
Vitamin C – anti-oxidizer, necessary for metabolic reactions and is a powerful enzymatic enabler
Calcium – combined with phosphate to form hydroxylapatite is the mineral of our bones. It is also extremely involved in neural functionality, including action potential release in muscles and neurotransmitters. Too much can be bad and is regulated by vitamin D (sun exposure)
Sulforaphane – has possible anti-cancer properties
Magnesium – essential nutrient for every cell (allows for photosynthesis in plants)
There are also Phosphorus, Potassium, Maganese, and several other trace minerals, including all the electrolytes and Vitamin b6. Kale is basically your multivitamin’s ingredients in raw form, similar to broccoli. Everyone could stand to eat more.
Like anything else, moderation is necessary, so find some balance among other food groups and don’t go kale crazy.
Daily consumption might not be a bad idea, especially for heart and artery health due to its digestive and anti-oxidant properties. Green drinks, Kale/almond ice cream, omelets, find a way to make the taste insignificant. Its always interesting how nutrition inevitably becomes biochemistry.
“The Sandskrit names of the asanas are significant and illustrate the principle of evolution. Some are named after vegetation like the tree (vrksa) and the lotus (padma); some after insects like the locust (salabha) and the scorpion (vrschika); some after aquatic animals and amphibians like the fish (matsya), the tortoise (kurma), the frog (bheka or manduka), or the crocodile (nakra). There are asanas called after the birds like the cock (kukkuta), the heron (baka), the peacock (mayura) and the swan (hamsa). They are also named after the quadrupeds like the dog (svana), the horse (vatayana), the camel (ustra) and the lion (simha). Creatures that crawl like the serpent (bhujanga) are not forgotten, nor is the human embryonic state (garbha-pinda) overlooked. Asanas are named after legendary heroes like Virabhadra and Hanuman, son of the wind Sages like Bharadvaja, Kapila, Vasistha and Visvamitra are remembered by having asanas named after them. Some asanas are also called after the gods of the Hindu pantheon and some recall the Avataras or incarnations of divine power. While performing the asanas the yogi’s body assumes many forms resembling a variety of creatures. His mind is trained not to despise any creature, for he knows that throughout the whole gamut of creation, from the lowliest insect to the most perfect sage, there breathes the same universal spirit, which assumes innumerable forms. He knows that the highest form is that of the formless. He finds unity in universality.”
BKS Iyengar writes this in his introduction to yoga. I think that it is a really good description of what yoga does; forcing us to become conscious of our environment, our selves, and the beings around us. Yoga means union and I think this quote explains why yoga is so universal. A lot of people view yoga as soft, but I think it can be extraordinarily scientific with proper technique.
There’s something special about devotion to your yoga practice for a period of time. It takes a lot of energy. The past couple of days have been pretty awesome, full of practice, working, and learning. Getting geared up to really teach, but the best part is by far the other people that are involved. Being around so many great yoga teachers is inspiring, to say the least.
That is pretty much the reason that I came home. I wanted to be around people that had similar beliefs and I’ve never really met a culture like that of Northern California. Boston was cool, but it was cold, and the vast majority of the yoga was 5 years behind California (except for Goldie, who’s influenced by Les Levinthal) who is from San Diego. I practiced at Back Bay Yoga and Sweat and Soul in Allston, but its not quite the same quality of yoga that you get in California. Back Bay was promising with an Ashtanga class, but I wasn’t impressed with the teacher and it was $150 a month. The teacher wasn’t even that good and her sub was much worse, but she had practiced for 15 years and right when I got there she took a month long vacation. It wasn’t meant to happen. Anyways, most of the teachers there are soft, you don’t really hold poses, I would yawn like 30 times in a class, which I don’t feel bad about because I can’t really control it. And thank you for calming my nervous system down so much that I have to reheat my brain, but I just think you need a powerful hot class to counterbalance it and if I’m flowing I shouldn’t be thinking about anything but my breathing. And then I can relax and do some Yin on the side.
The best yoga teacher I’ve ever met had 6 people in her class. It was incredible, a variation of Ashtanga, single breathe movements and static postures all put together by sun salutations. Goes to show what people look for in a yoga class. Its become more of entertainment and originality now in the US, rather than its more silent and sacred roots in India.
Getting to practice multiple times a day is such a gift, I just love pushing the edge father away. The people at East Wind that practice with me are so awesome too, so awe inspiring. I mean the students now, who I find sometimes take their practice more seriously than teachers. And then there are just some teachers that put so much into what they teach that you can’t help but feel amazing after a class. Spending a morning there is a pretty fun privilege.
Anyways, it seemed like Hanumanasana was the pose of the day today. Internal rotation of the hips, pointing the back toes to the back of the room. Curling the toes of the opposite foot towards your knee, making a dorsi-flex in the knee. Create ascending traction in your lower back from moving your hips down and together. Can’t wait to get down there. Hopefully the next few days are just as fun.
Sometimes, a personal practice can be awesome. You can just shift gears in ways that would never happen in a real class, and just dive into feeling.
I love putting together new sequences, its just fun to explore what feels good. Today I went straight from vinyasa into standing, didn’t do back to vinyasa until the very end and it felt awesome. Weird how things like that can work.
Anyways, I will be practicing this one a few times and teaching it, let’s see how it turns out!