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During high school, I was playing electric bass. I jammed with friends, listened to records, and talked about music every spare second. At some point, I stumbled upon a collection of essays about various Jazz musicians. The descriptions about each artist, from avant-garde stalwart Albert Ayler, to Count Basie and Duke Ellington, remained etched into my subconscious long before I’d heard much of their music. Now, in one sense, reading a book (I’m pretty sure critic Gene Lees was the author) of this ilk was invaluable in one way; it exposed to me to the vast and diverse world of jazz, and it could be argued that I might have not discovered any of these musicians without some guidance.

But it had consequences somehow. I didn’t realize that I’d been seduced by the curator class.

What the hell is that??

The curator’s role is not making stuff. At best, a curator serves as a needed, or at least useful, conduit between stuff and you (the consumer). So I was reading the well-articulated views of a non-musician, or an amateur musician, who clearly felt passionately about the subject of jazz, and checking out recordings. But the words were hopelessly in front of the experience. Does that make sense? I think it makes sense if you’ve experienced what I’m talking about. I think this sort of backwards entry into jazz created an approach that I’d call head-first, euphemistically. It created a harmful pattern of putting too many words around an experience, and it took a long time to break out of it.

It’s hard. We have to have names for stuff. But even that is a problem. When I teach ‘yoga’, I have to use words, and I have to call the subject ‘yoga’. In a sense that definition is the conduit for an idea, but is it the idea? I’m not sure. I do know that my attention to simple movement in the body takes me somewhere, and that experience is easily tainted by definition. I’m hopeful my words are conduits for authentic ideas in my students. But my seeing (and saying, really) are limited in the end.

Social media fosters a fertile environment for aspiring curators. One could probably say that any educator is a curator of ideas, but the modern ‘curator class’ I’m referring to are web critics, bloggers (ha) and the like who put short blurbs above articles, links to books, recordings, etc.

Yoga has its own legion of curators. You can even take workshops with yoga curators, which is kind of insane, since a yoga instructor is another curator. So it’s essentially curated curation. Anyway, I’ve stated that internet discourse is usually reactive. Thus the pull is all the more seductive. I know this piece might be confusing, but I need to cement my commitment to the ‘doing’ role, and leave the curators to talk about it amongst themselves.

 

Fall News

I’m pleased to announced that I’ve passed assessment, and am Certified Iyengar Yoga Techer (CIYT). I previously completed another training in 2009.  This process was far more labor intensive, but very worthwhile. Coming later this fall, I hope to have a lot more offerings at my home studio. Watch this space for a new site and a bit of rebranding.

I continue to teach a wide range of public classes. In my home, I’m going to establish courses, which many might not realize was the way classes were originally sold at the Iyengar Institue of New York. As a matter of fact, though they are no longer explicitly sold that way, they are still taught that way. I’m excited to offer students in my area a bona fide yoga education, as opposed to the casual class.

I’d like to publicly express thanks to the many students, current and former, who helped me to learn and pass my assessment. You are my real teachers!

Back to School

It’s the first week back to school for many. This is a great time of year, and many of us recommit to our disciplines with more zeal, or find new outlets. To be honest, I’ve been ‘back to school’ for several years, and am basically in the throes of it. When you decide to take on Iyengar teaching as a thing, you basically become a full-time student forever. The certification process is long and arduous. It’s worked really well for me. Basically it’s forced me to understand the work to a degree that I might not have otherwise. And it’s put me in the room observing my teacher, James Murphy, for hundreds of hours. Like jazz, we learn teaching osmotically. I watch what he says, and what he doesn’t say. I watch what he does, and doesn’t do. I move things around in the room, mainly to make things work out better for the students. Sometimes I rescue someone stuck in sarvangasana. 

What struck me the most about Iyengar Yoga was the quality of the teachers, and the community that, in my view, is really based on teaching. Iyengar himself had a fervent commitment to teaching and learning. I lament that what I see in the contemporary culture of yoga has veered away from that. Popular classes are mainly lead sequences without any precision, detail or refinement. But rue learning is demanding, and not always polite. Generally, learning thoroughly involves unlearning habits that are holding one back, and that’s rarely much fun. But kriya yoga begins with tapas (austerity, mortification, inner fire), according to Patanjali. That’s where the parinarma (transformation) takes hold.

So, with the new school year now afoot, consider redoubling your commitment to your yoga practice. Study with teachers who demand the most of you. As Genny Kapuler often says, “Even a long life isn’t forever”.

Abhijata

It was a wonderful weekend in Boca Raton. Those in attendance were treated to some spectacular yoga teaching, courtesy of Abhijata Sridhar. She smiled and sparkled, and spoke to all of us. Deep layers moved that I hadn’t felt before.

 

Introductory Series in March

Preview01I’ll be offering an Introductory Series at my studio beginning in March. These four classes offer students new to Iyengar Yoga a basic framework for practice, and emphasize standing postures, as well as inversions and restorative work. Those suffering from minor injuries and conditions can be accommodated.

Introductory Series

3/13, 3/20, 3/27 and 4/3

3-4:30pm

$60

Space is limited, and the semi-private nature of these sessions allows for a lot of attention.  For more information, contact me.

 

Runners

I’ve toyed with the idea of offering a runner’s yoga class, but I keep stopping myself. There’s a part of me that resists the concept from an ethical standpoint. I don’t really believe that runners need a different form of yoga. There is not one group of muscles, bones, or emotional states that pertains to running more than any other. Runners stand to benefit greatly from yoga, and they should just do yoga.

But there are ways one could practice after a run that are more beneficial than others. Because running is a vigorous, heating activity, poses with support allow for longer, more passive release  and are very beneficial. One doesn’t necessarily need to start with heating poses, such as standing postures, following a run. Because the calves and thighs are used so strongly in running, a five minute virasana, with height as needed under the buttock bones, and a rolled mat between the calves and thighs, is really nice for runners. The front of the thigh is allowed to lengthen, the low back can soften, and the shins receive some nice pressure from the floor, in effect massaging them. I’d suggest moving on to supta virasana for 3-5 minutes, depending on what you can handle (some could handle more than that). Supta virasana increases the effects of virasana, but allows for greater chest opening – and since many runners collapse their chests, this is very helpful. You should learn these poses in person from a skilled teacher.

Runners who have tried these poses tell me they get some relief from shin splints and hip tightness that come from running. They are only the tip of the iceberg, but a nice place to start. I ran through my 20s and became very tight from lack of stretching. I’d suggest leaving some time after your runs to stretch and restore, but I understand that time is limited. But my feeling is that you’ll recover much better with at least 15 -20 minutes of yoga.

Here is one possible routine

virasana 5 min

supta virasana 5 min

uttanasana 3-5 min

forward sukasana 1-2 min each crossing

viparita karani 5 min or longer time permitting

Practical use of a list like this relies on information you’ve received from a qualified teacher. Give yourself some time to learn the basic mechanics of poses before launching into super-long holds. But please let me know if you try these ideas, and if they work for you.

The Internet = Vrtti

Oh yeah, like the internet really needs another opinion on yoga, or anything else for that matter. The immediacy in communication that the internet, or more specifically, social media, facilitates creates the climate for reactive, violent discourse. Even when some people care about a dead lion, they are castigated for not caring enough about other dead/dying/oppressed beings.

Most yoga writing that I come across is inflammatory. How to injure yourself in this or that pose. Why this or that method is bad/dangerous/great/not right for this or that body. But the truth is that many of these issues are already written about, and taught about, at length, by more informed people that don’t have time, or won’t allocate time, to the reactive morass that is internet discourse.

For instance, there are lots of ways to approach common issues like knee pain. Without seeing a student, how can blanket statements like ‘avoid bent knee poses’ or ‘don’t fully straighten the knee’ be true or even the least bit helpful? The secret is there is no secret, like any real discipline, and great practitioners and teachers are still constantly getting themselves into pickles and sorting it out.

So it might be a little bit of an unfortunate reality that, occasionally, one needs to say something about the subject. But we need to communicate somehow. I think there was more vital and intelligent discourse on yoga (and everything else) pre-internet. Now there is just more discourse. The same missteps in form repeating themselves, because there are so many ‘experts’. This alone is why many choose a ‘method’ or ‘lineage’. I don’t need to create my ‘own thing’, even though I am clearly finding my ‘own way’ through Iyengar Yoga. Yes, even with all my great teachers, I still feel ‘self-taught’ somehow. I hope that makes sense.

Yogascittavrittinirodaha – “Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of consciousness” (from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). Of course, Iyengar related it to the body as well. He related it to everything, as far as I can tell. We don’t need more words, but sometimes we need a few. Maybe we need to start with a confused and reactive pose, and then ‘work’ to move the pose into stillness.

Spring News

Class with Firooza is a little unlike the other classes at the Iyengar Institute. The class size is so large that both teaching studios are used. In attendance are esteemed Institute faculty, other noteworthy teachers from the area, and many devoted students. Firooza acknowledges her students’ commitment while also acknowledging areas where they lack attention or sensitivity. Seeing this powerful educator guide practitioners, who I know from personal experience are formidable teachers themselves, is instructive. More so is the feeling – the zeitgeist of the work – that becomes clear. A bigger picture comes into view as she teaches simple pranayama, but with exacting areas of focus. So too, she guides us through many inversions, waking up the heavy area of the tailbone.

I certainly feel I am in good supportive hands here in New York, but Firooza Ravzi’s workshop helps to get an even broader perspective, and makes me more certain of both my own practice, as well as what I offer my students…

A friend who teaches another style mentioned she wanted to teach more, but felt intimidated because New Yorkers want so much precision in their yoga. I hear this kind of thing from time to time, but Is that really the case? As an Iyengar devotee, I usually feel that flow styles are more popular. Iyengar is a niche market these days.
But what a niche it is! I’ve had a fabulous year teaching people of such a broad range of ages, as well as a broad range of mobility. Those who are more rigid really respond to the clear directions in this method, as do those with common injuries, like meniscus tears. It’s been exciting to see something so meaningful to me help people. And that draws me in even more.
This method makes room for everyone, realy. When I began teaching, I actually felt as though I was going against the grain. Well, actually, that’s not quite true – my first students were friends, and they were really game for what, at the time, was pretty detail-heavy. In fact, these days my teaching is much simpler and more direct. I’ve really been inspired by my mentors these last few years; their teaching has a certain fire that really takes students somewhere. The method, this yoga we do, continues to unfold for me. And my students are perhaps the best teachers of all!

Results

For those who practice regularly, results become something resembling a platitude. They are ‘hope and change’, ‘enlightenment’, a deep uttanasana…. Results appear every once in a while. To loosely quote Mr. Iyengar, they relate to the powers attained in pada 3 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras; they remind us we are on the right path, but we shouldn’t get to caught up in them.
Yet I teach, and continue to study the art of teaching. And this method has such a practical aesthetic to it; students often seek it out because it can help with injuries and conditions. Here, we teachers are advised to draw a distinction. We are not therapists, but there are guidelines for many issues. It is similar to technique when playing an instrument. The pianist with tendonitis overcomes the pain with proper technique. I frequently see new students light up when they fix technical issues in their poses.
One student has rather severe knee pain. It started with a tennis injury, and led to multiple surgeries. The pain didn’t abate, and pain management has yielded mixed results. In our method, we generally begin with the work of the work of the limbs. She remarked that the ‘lift’ of the knee that we emphasize so persistently gave her tangible relief.
Even a small reduction in pain is a huge victory for one who is suffering. Perhaps, like a siddhi, or power, she must see the result as a reason to redouble her efforts on the path.