I remember the onset of pattern baldness during my late twenties was kind of sobering. It’s easy to laugh about it now. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it was also just around the time I got interested in yoga, and yoga freed me from a lot. I think those of us who practice can relate to that kind of freedom you feel when you pour every fiber of your being into something. We can walk away from situations and thoughts that are a kind of bondage. Of course, as time goes by, we might go through difficult periods where we fall back into habits. That the potential is there to live at least more free of those afflictions makes yoga a worthy endeavor.
That ‘small ‘i” thinking is tricky – in some ways we do a lot of things to interface with the world functionally that cannot be avoided. It would seem, however, that the impact of these actions can be reduced, or at least seen in context. Only a renunciate has a chance of avoiding these things completely, and it seems possible that, even then, they come up (you remember stuff, right?)
The angle of yoga revealed to me is one where we our identity dissolves. I was able to walk off the mat and be that much more unattached to the state of my hair follicles, who liked me, how much money I made… whatever. I mentioned it to an old school Brooklynite at the time. I told him I was actually happier and felt much better about myself than when I had a nice, full head of hair. “Get cool with who you are,” he said in a sage-like New York accent.
It probably is frustrating to some, who know me well, that I avoid wading too far into volatile cultural waters. The reason is mainly two-fold; I have somewhat of a greater sense of self-preservation than I did in my caustic rocker days, and I really do think marrying the culture of yoga to current cultural issues is rather dishonest. But, hey, you do you… Get cool with who you are.
During teacher training at the Iyengar Institute of New York, senior teacher James Murphy once said simply, “If you want to understand an asana, do it for as long as possible. If you can’t do that, then repeat it as many times as possible”. When I mentioned to him that Raya U.D. basically said the same thing when I studied in Pune, James smiled and laughed, “I’ve been right all along!” But all levity aside, the idea of really focusing on a pose that is an obstacle for us is something that I’ve found to be very helpful. I think we often take a more measured route towards a difficult pose, instead of really trying to understand why a pose is so hard or unattainable. The sequences we are taught are well-rounded experiences with clear beginnings and endings – but practice is rarely like that. In fact, I think that if we hold ourselves to the standard of those carefully-crafted sequences all the time, we miss out on the real sloppiness that often takes us somewhere important.
To be fair, it might be unrealistic to simply start with a hard pose and then keep repeating it. But you might pare that hard pose down to a few of it’s more preliminary companions. Don’t like Urdva Prasarita Ekapasasana? How is that Parsvottanasana coming along? Maybe add in a supported Virabadrasana 3 (arms to a chair or ledge), and you’ve got some work. If you just do these poses once or twice on each side, you aren’t likely to penetrate those difficult parts. Now in class, the idea of doing a vignette like this over and over might… make you a very unpopular teacher. But one starts to see, to really ‘break through’ and transform those difficult poses, we need to stay and marinate for a while.
I’m pleased to announce I’ll be leading my first-ever weekend intensive at Heathen Hill, which is a lovely spot in the Catskill region of New York. October 14-16. Details forthcoming.
Happy holidays! I recently was named Publications Chair for the Iyengar Yoga National Association of the United States (IYNAUS), and am directing the internet publication, The Light, which is published two times a year, in digital format.
The next issue will focus on Trauma, which I am learning is an incredibly broad subject. Many teachers are telling their stories, and sharing insights. I am eager to hear from students, teachers, and professionals such as physicians, therapists, PTS, etc. to help shape what I hope will be a very engaging and informative read.
The conversations I’ve had so far have been exhilarating. We often have different names for the same thing. Crazy how knowledge works across disciplines.
If you feel that you have something to offer, don’t hesitate to contact me.
After 18 months of only teaching online, I held my first in-person workshop in my home studio this past weekend. The three-dimensional space is very different. It was exciting to see people working ‘together’ again, although I feel a sincere connection is happening in my online classes. People do inspire and support each other on many levels in person. I plan to hold these regularly. In fact, the next scheduled workshops are October 23 and 30 at 3pm. If you are in the area, vaccinated, and have a year or two at least of Iyengar Yoga experience, you should come. Contact me for more information.
In other news, I am hosting an online series that focuses on Pranayama – specifically Light on Pranayama. We will cover a range of material over six weeks, on Tuesdays at 9am, beginning on 10/19. Those enrolled in the series will also receive links to recordings.
My other online classes continue as usual for the rest of the fall.
Fall is almost here. I keep postponing making grand fall announcements, and I comfort myself by saying, “It’s not _really_ fall yet” – of course, I’m the only one in on the conversation. I mean that literally. My wife tells me she hears me talking to myself a lot.
The Iyengar Institute of New York was on track to reopen in one way, but now it is on track (with much more certainty) to open in a slightly different one. Originally, we were scheduled to go back in the Brooklyn space in August at full capacity, the caveat being that the classes will be hybrid. I have not yet taught hybrid, meaning, in this case, that the class is both for live students in the room and students online simultaneously. I am not excited about the idea, but originally planned to do it because, well, it gives some people a chance to take class in person. I don’t think it’s ideal. The people in the room are likely to receive less or no adjustments or prop-specific setups that the people watching online cannot accommodate. But more to the point: the people at home are likely to get a lot less attention. More recently, concern over variants lead the Institute to revise the reopening plan to be strictly masked (including teachers) with a limit of 12 students in person per class. Given that many of the students who take class with me on my regular Friday class through IYAGNY are from out of state, or live far enough away that they wouldn’t likely make the trip, it didn’t seem worth it at this time to change formats. That said, I am teaching a Beginners Series for students new to Iyengar Yoga at the Iyengar Institute of Brooklyn. The class is the first three Saturdays in November. Capacity is limited to 12 in-person, or you can take it online. I agreed to this one because I think that brand new students will feel more confident with some in-person classes to get them going. These classes have to be booked through the Institute’s website, but it hasn’t been listed at the time I am writing this.
My online schedule is staying pretty much the same for now, though I may add one early morning class or one early evening class later this fall. I am also hosting (planning to, anyway) a couple of in-person workshops in my own space. These workshops have a maximum capacity of five students and are, as of now, completely booked. I plan to host them monthly, if possible. If this interests you, and you’d like to be waitlisted or apprised of future such gatherings, please contact me. My home studio is close to the Church Ave B/Q station in Brooklyn. I am also teaching vaccinated students privately in person, as well as online.
In short, yoga continues boldly and consistently as we move into what appears to be more uncertainty. I’m blessed by the continued support of my students. Thanks for visiting.
I’ve got a rapidly-growing, easily-accessed archive of classes going back for several months. There are some really nice sequences there, in case you are looking for some specific things to practice.
If you sign up for a live class, and can’t make it, I can usually give you access to the recording shortly afterward, for a few days. Just let me know.
Early in the pandemic, the Iyengar Institute of New York moved classes online. Like everyone else, the roughly 40-person faculty assumed it would be a few weeks without teaching in person. Maybe a month. But you know what happened.
I bought equipment. Classes took on more cohesion. We found a way to make it work. That is to say: online classes do work, and far better than expected. My Friday night class roster included new friends abroad in places like Singapore, Japan, and the Philippines, as well as locals who I had met in person before then pandemic.
Now, well over a year into this new reality, online teaching and studying has become central in my life. Iyengar Yoga classes are expressly designed to foster an independent home practice, and studying with a teacher of your choice in your home is a fantastic place to start. I’ve seen my own students thrive, take risks, and really customize the work for their own unique situations. I feel that my own studies have flourished, with access to teachers outside of my local area.
With in-person classes returning as a choice, I intend to begin by offering some in-person workshops in my own space in the South Prospect Park area of Brooklyn. I would say my target would be September at the latest, but I hope to have something sooner.
Cooking many meals per week is a cornerstone of our household since my wife and I began living together. During this pandemic, we cook most meals we eat. Cook enough and you start to see your patterns. Now many months into this new routine, I observed a tendency to treat vegetables the same ways. Onions always cooked on the hotter side with a lot of color. Brussels sprouts? Roasted and charred. A lot of heat can be great, but I was surprised the other day when I did the onions at a more medium-low heat with little color. The chopped garlic was fragrant and danced around in the pan just for a while before the brussels sprouts went in. I used a generous amount of broth and simmered them for about 12 minutes. The result was a different taste. There were sweet tones from cooking longer and with a more gentle intensity.
My postural practice went through a similar revision this fall. When that lump below my ear turned out to be a tumor in my parotid gland, I had to get a somewhat invasive surgery with a recovery period. My movements, particularly for the first two weeks, were very limited. But with props and creativity, I was able to do a lot. Forward extensions with my head resting became a source of comfort. Because I was very nervous leading up to the surgery, there was a lot to let go of. Suffice it to say, now 6 weeks or so out of surgery, I’m aware of the balance that I need to strike as I add more ‘heat’ to the practice. Strong poses, like for instance parsvakonasana, can still be cooked low and slow. Reflective action and breath awareness make the work actually yoga for me – at the risk of sounding very cliche.
If you are stuck at home with some time and wondering what to practice, try practicing few poses with a careful attention to your feelings in each pose. The restorative poses, such as supta baddha konasana, are certainly the easiest ones to do this with. But then I’m confident you can take that into whatever you do, and whatever you want to work on. Try it. Otherwise, in my experience, we can do active postures with too rigorous a mindset and just get stuck in measuring physical progress (“can I touch my toes/ bind/ come up with straight legs”). Those things have their place; it’s hard to be ‘quiet’ in head balance if you cannot execute it. But if you can see the refinements we make as a way in which to go deeper ‘inside’ and more effectively reflect, the experience is very different.
All classes are online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I offer several weekly classes, some of which you can access through this site. I also have a weekly class at the Iyengar Institute of New York on Fridays at 6pm. More classes are coming in the winter of 2021!