Sunday, December 11, 2011

Yoga perspective from 'Buddha' documentary

I'm watching a documentary called "The Buddha" narrated by Richard Gere and there is this discussion of yoga:
Although yoga appears to focus on controlling the body, it is in fact an ancient spiritual discipline, a form of meditation, harnessing the energies of the body to tame the mind. Some yogis learn to sit without breathing for hours, breathing more and more slowly until they seem to be barely breathing at all.
From here the narrative says that the Buddha was like a super-yogi, reaching the most rarified states but these are escapes from the problem of suffering, not a permanent solution. At a very superficial level, I suspect this has to do with the dualistic nature of these practices, as opposed to the Buddhist insight of non-duality. I guess the question is whether yoga as we know it today maintains a dualistic approach or has incorporated the nondual ideals of Buddhism.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Coming up hard against blockages in practice

From David Garrigues' newsletter, someone raised an important question about essentially a yoga breakdown. I like David's answer about yoga being more than following the series - sometimes you need to alter the practice to suit your needs. You can beat your head against the wall in lots of ways, including yoga. Here it is:

Hello, I have a question. I have been practicing for at least 5 years, Ashtanga, visited Mysore twice, and now in second series, Pincha Mayurasana. Both times that I had been to India, I got quite sick with anemia. I am very Vata, and I believe the practice just exhausts me. Sharath believes always I can do more, but I know inside it's just my 'wind' pushing me through but my mind is battling. Exhausted. It's a hard place to be. I love Ashtanga, and it saddens me to think maybe it really isn't the best practice for me anymore? Even now when I do the second series, I spend most of my day feeling anger, blocked, and ironically out of my centre. My creative and easy going nature is hard to reach. I understand the idea of facing and working through such emotions. I do my best. But it's been quite a constant for the past year or more. These feelings don't change much.
Have you had any stories or experiences similar come your way?
I hope not to bore you with my mundane question.

Here is my response.

Thank you for writing. Your question is very important and far from mundane. If I could work with you, see you practice get to know you a bit, it would be much easier to give you a helpful answer. Trying other styles is certainly an option, and you have to ask your self if that is really what you want to do. If you do want to do that, then there you have it. It might be important to check out what else is out there before you really decide that Ashtanga is best for you. But maybe you honestly do want to do Ashtanga and for whatever reason you are running into a major road block that is seeming to last too long. And you'd like to work through it, but it's really challenging you.
In that case I would consider that it might be more how you are thinking about and approaching your practice that is at the root of what is tiring and frustrating you. Remember that really the practice is there to serve you--and you have more freedom than you might be allowing your self to change it up and tweak things so that it continues to feed and nourish you. You can mix things up and do more primary or part of primary and part of intermediate. You can lighten things up when you feel the need by practicing shorter or skipping some asana's on some days, or spending more time with finishing postures. Your practice needs to be soulful and to come from a place of genuine inner agreement--where you agree with what you are doing and how you are doing it each day.
Are you practicing alone or with a teacher? If alone then it can be challenging not to get frustrated because of not having instruction or community, but also it is easier to mix things up too and do what feels right to you. If you have a daily teacher than you'll have to work with them so that you are aligned with what is happening in the class. If you were in my class I'd look at what you are doing and how you are doing it, and then make suggestions for doing some different things along the lines what I mentioned above. It can be tricky to mix things and still continue to respect the guidelines of the lineage.
But it is essential to do especially when the alternative is to discontinue your practice. It helps me to remember that true ashtanga as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois is a living, creative lineage. And therefore the application of the method ought not to be rigid nor dogmatically fixed. One size doesn't fit all, we are all unique and specific and thus have differing requirements that necessitate different sorts of interpretations of the practice. And this goes in cycles; sometimes we are able to flow along precisely in step with the vinyasa protocol and at other times we have to practice in slower or more theraputic modes or in other ways that are possibly not quite what ashtanga allegedly is supposed to be or look like. For me the thread that always keeps it all connected is my lasting, genuine love and devotion to ashtanga. In order for the lineage to evolve, grow and thrive each one of us must ever create the lineage anew through our 'research', our personal relationship to the struggles and triumphs of our daily practices.
Ashtanga is such a treasure, such a powerful practice, I'd hate to see you leave it when you've come so far (almost through the intermediate!). Maybe you can soften, listen within for more inner cues on how you need to practice just now. And one more thing is I'd really look at your breathing too, if your breathing is not balanced, either too much force or not enough power, then your energy will get disrupted. This is true especially with the passage of time and can become a road block to developing your intermediate practice. Hope some of this helps and drop me line let me know how you are doing.
All the Best
Om Namah Shivaya!

Hari Om,

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unpacking the Ashtanga opening chant

Every Ashtanga practice starts with the invocation to Patanjali, so I thought I would try to unpack the meaning of the chant here. I'm relying largely on Ronald Steiner's excellent AshtangaInfo website.

vande gurūṇāṁ caraṇāravinde
sandarśita svātma sukhāva bodhe 
 Literally, "I bow to the lotus feet of our great teachers,
who uncovers our true self and awakens happiness."

The great teacher is of course Patanjali, who is said to have written the Yoga Sutras  about 150 BCE. It doesn't seem that anyone can clearly identify Patanjali as a historical figure and some traditions deify Patanjali as a manifestation of a God. The second line clearly refers to the third line of the Sutras: "For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature."

nih shreyase jangali kayamane
sansara halahala mohashantyai
This site translates this as follows:" which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
 which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara (conditioned existence)."

Steiner explains: "The jungle shamans were the best doctors. They had huge knowledge about medicinal plants and leaves and they could heal a variety of illnesses. In India their fame exists until today."

Samsara is conditioned existence. What does that mean? The sutras say: When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.  That is, the vrittis lead to samsara and it is the practice of yoga that wipes out these misperceptions and enable true union.

 Well, that's the start of the chant. More later.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Mysore

Thanksgiving Mysore class at Westside Yoga Studio for those with some sort of Ashtanga practice. Led by awesome John Smith, 7-9 am. Good way to prepare for that dinner. Also: check out Yoga On Center in Healdsburg, with Vinyasa Yoga with Jenn Russo, 9-10:30 a.m.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

14 business tips for yoga teachers

Here's a great piece offering 14 business tips for a successful yoga teaching business. Actually they're great tips for managing any small business. Think of this stuff - keeeping spreadsheets, writing weekly business journals, crunching the numbers - as a practice it and of itself. As in yoga, discipline leads to progress. Critical to the practice:
...You have your ideal list of activities, how many on a weekly basis you’ll teach and the revenue that’s possible from each. Tally it up and see if, on a monthly basis, it meets your revenue target. If not, something has to change. Either your magic number has to come down, you need to look for a part-time job to include in the mix, you need to get a partner to increase your revenue opportunities, you need to charge more per service, you need to increase the number of services you offer on a weekly basis or you need to include more services for which your reimbursement per service is higher. I find this is a great exercise for new yoga teachers because it can help you see how many classes and other activities you’d need to teach to break even. This exercise is great to do before you quit your corporate job, if you indeed have one of those.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Food, yoga and Occupy

Here's a sneak preview of an essay I am trying to put together on the Occupy movement and the many ways we can strive to de-corporatize our lives. My basic theme is that government operates to encourage corporatism -- to the detriment of the people, not just financially but in virtually every aspect of life. So here are some thoughts on food and corporatism.

It's not just how we handle our money and real estate and credit cards ... but how we eat, how we educate, what passes for entertainment, everything that we consume, what we fill our minds with. To truly live Occupy is to question every aspect of the American lifestyle, as it's been warped and twisted into service of corporate profits, and to seek out the old, true paths towards living with meaning. Which is how I think yoga provides a framework for a new lifestyle.

Part of the bill of goods has been a grossly unhealthy way of eating - McDonald's, ice cream, frozen meals, giant sodas, super-sugared coffees, Super-Size-Me portions of meat, pasta, cheese, and so on. And to a huge extent this if food dreamed up, marketed and sold by corporations in only-in-America systems. Not only are we eating crap, we turn farmers, truckers, factory workers into cogs in the corporate factory food machines. So when Occupy says "we want jobs," what kind of jobs do we want? Jobs that validate, facilitate and entrench this kind of economy?

For example, here's a quote from Michael Pollan's new book, "Food Rules":

"Populations that eat a so-called Western diet - lots of processed foods and meat, lots of added fat and sugar, lots of refined grains, lots of everything except vegetables, fruits and whole grains - invariably suffer from high rates of the so-called Western diseases. ... People who get off the Western diet see dramatic improvements in their health."

Yes, but a few hippies, a few radicals, a few million people tuned into healthy eating won't make a difference. If Occupy is a protest against the combination of government + corporatism, consider this:  The public health debate is not on how to get people off the Western diet but

"the focus is on identifying the evil nutrient in the Western diet so that food manufacturers might tweak their products, thereby leaving the diet undisturbed, or so that pharmaceutical makers might develop and sell us an antidote for it."
It may seem naive, but I feel that a yoga practice breeds the consciousness, and the imperative to look deeply and question that should lead practitioners to examine how they eat, where food comes from, and to what degree they are accepting without question the corporatization of the food supply.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

New pilates/yoga class in Graton

Yoga in Graton is pleased to announce the addition of a new Graton class - Susan Melina will teach a Pilates/yoga class Wednesday mornings 9-10 a.m. at the <a href="">Stone Creek Zen Center</a>. Here's the writeup.

This class aims to build core strength through Pilates matt exercises, while stretching & healing through Yoga and breath work.

Susan has been teaching the Pilates and Yoga class, Stretch to the Core, for the past 5 years in Graton.
The class aims to build core strength while keeping the muscles toned and stretched. Susan has been a student of yoga for 18 years and received her certification in Pilates from ITT in San Francisco 8 years ago. At present Susan is studying to become an Ayurvedic Practitioner at the Dhyana Center in Sebastopol. She is also a massage therapist and mother of three!

Class is $10 suggested donation
No class card

Call 707-824-0933 for more information.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Notes on Tadasana

I bought all of Dr. Ray Long's "mat companion" books, so my intention is to try to translate his rather anatomical instructions into the kind of language that might be used in yoga class. The books are beautiful and filled with amazing insights into exactly what is happening in our bodies in asana. Some of this material is available for free from Ray's website and there is new material on the blog, the Daily Bandha.

So, where better to begin than tadasana? Ray says there are 8 major steps in tadasana, but here are a few points that resonated for me.

1. After extending the spine (erector spinae), work with the balance of the pelvis. Squeeze the butt (activate glutes) and notice how that brings the top of the pelvis back and drops the tailbone down (and forward). The action of the glutes also externally rotates the thigh bones (femurs.) More subtly, gluteus minimus can lock the head of the femur into place.

2. All this back and butt squeezing pushes the low ribs forward. Activate the abs (rectus abdominus) to drop the ribs and activate psoas to draw the top of the pelvis forward. Find the balance in the pelvis between activating glutes and stabilizing pelvis with the deep hip muscles.

3. Activate quads, drawing kneecaps up. Activate inner thigh muscles (adductors) to draw thigh bones together. Counteract the glutes' externally rotating the thighs by scrubbing the feet apart while keeping the adductors fired.

4. Pull shoulder back - actually get an external rotation of the upper arm bone (humerus).

5. Activate trapezius to pull the shoulder blades down. Activate triceps to straighten elbows.

6. Squeeze the shoulder blades together (rhomboids) and hug them tightly to the back.

7. Now, with shoulder blades in place, try to roll the shoulders forward. You won't be able to - the shoulder blades are keeping the shoulders from moving forward but this action will lift the chest.

8. Finally, recruit those muscles on the upper side body (serratus anterior) to lift the chest. Imagine pushing your hands against the sides of a doorway to engage those muscles and lift the chest.

Wow, that's a lot for the "just standing" posture!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sad news from Yoga On Center

Yoga On Center will hold a candlelight memorial class for Rhiannon Hull, who died suddenly while swimming in the ocean in Costa Rica.

Dear YOC community,

It is with our deepest regret that we write to share some tragic news from within our community. Many of you remember our former yoga teacher and longtime student Rhiannon Hull. Sadly, Rhiannon passed away in Costa Rica this past week when she and her youngest son Julian were both pulled under by a strong tide while swimming in the ocean. Rhiannon was able to save Julian's life, bringing him to the surface where nearby surfers were able to rescue him. Tragically, Rhiannon was then pulled back by the strong tide and they were unable to save her. She died saving her son's life.

We remember Rhiannon as she lived, with great energy, caring and passion. A former college and professional runner, she turned to yoga during her competitive years to help improve her running. She became certified in Prana Flow with senior Yoga teacher Shiva Rea and liked to describe her classes as a "groove of one's self". Besides teaching yoga, Rhiannon was a free-lance writer and self-proclaimed "Eco-Mama", spending her time balanced between writing for her online blog "The Eco-Family" (, studying to become a Waldorf teacher, and home schooling her two young boys.
Rhiannon leaves behind her husband Norm, her oldest son Gianni (8) and her son Julian (6). We ask you to join us as we send them our love, light and support, keeping Rhiannon's smile, bright light and enthusiasm for life in our hearts. At this point the best thing we can all do for them is send them our love, light and support and keep Rhiannon's smile, bright light and enthusiasm for life in our hearts.

Yoga on Center will be hosting a Candlelight Memorial Class in honor of Rhiannon.  We invite you to join us November 11th, Friday, 5:30-7:00pm. More details will come soon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Richard's new yoga class

Starting November 6, 2011, I'm launching a new yoga class in Graton. It's Sundays from 4 to 5:30 at the Stone Creek Zen Center in Graton. This is part of the Graton's Got Yoga thang and I'm excited about linking forces with Corina and Cheryl.

The class comes out of my recent immersion into the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with John Smith at the Westside Yoga Studio, coupled with what I learned some years ago in a teacher training program with Rodney Yee, Patricia Sullivan, Mary Paffard and Richard Rose at the Piedmont Yoga Studio.

Anyway, come by a Sunday afternoon to check it out.

Richard Koman Classes

Saturday, October 22, 2011

One of a series of amazing photographs (FB) by Kristie Kahns of Kino MacGregor and Daylene Christensen practicing at Moksha Yoga in Chicago. Lots of yoga photography and other kinds of images at Kristie's FB page.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Curing wrist pain in Chataranga

People complain about wrist pain in Chataranga Dandsana (push-up posture). The usual remedy you hear from teachers is to drop your knees to the ground. But as this article points out, dropping the knees does nothing to help with wrist pain.

The problem is with the usual instruction to stack the elbows directly over the wrists and to emphasize driving the chest forward. That essentially puts all of the upper body weight bearing down on the wrists. And dropping the knees makes the pose somewhat easier by not requiring activation of the legs, but doesn't change the amount of weight on the wrists. Indeed, it might make it worse by removing the legs from helping lift the weight.

However, David Keil says:

The further forward the shoulders are from the hands, the more strain ends up in the shoulders. This happens because bulk of the upper body weight is too far out in front to be supported by the hands under it. Imagine holding a twenty pound weight directly over your shoulder, shouldn’t be a problem, but now move it forward just a few inches and gravity starts to work on your shoulder in a very different way.

As far as general alignment rules for stacking joints is concerned, don’t apply it to the wrist and the elbow for chaturanga. OK, there may be a few people who are an exception to this last statement, but most people putting their elbows over their wrists in chaturanga will be putting way too much strain on the shoulder. Not to mention it also increases the wrist angle and can cause problems there too. Most people should have their elbow slightly behind their wrist, which brings the center of their chest and their weight closer to the line between their two hands.

So keep the elbow slightly behind the wrist, and the shoulders not quite so far forward ....

Oh, now I see how far I have to go ...

Just watch it.

Why Ashtanga is the hardest yoga style...

Funny tongue in cheek article on Elephant Journal that explains why Ashtanga is the hardest yoga style.

Some of my faves:

The length of the series. I’ve never really counted how many poses their are in the primary series but that shit is LONG. Someone actually listed out the whole thing. See how intimidating it is? The first 18 poses are the standing series, and the last 14 is the finishing sequence. Technically only the middle part is the primary series. But you’re supposed to do all three parts during your practice. And no skipping either! One of my favorite teachers said one time that each pose preps you for the next, so you shouldn’t skip.

Bhujapidasana to Tittibhasana to BakasanaYou’re like, bhujamawatshis?  In the primary series (a.k.a. the “starter” series in Ashtanga) there’s a pose called Bhujapidasana, or the arm-pressure pose. Depending on your own talents, this is one of the hardest poses in the primary series because (a) it’s an arm balance, (b) you’re supposed to jump into the pose, and (c) you’re supposed to exit out of the pose in a very specific way. I know, right?

The tradition of daily practice. Yep, I said DAILY. As in they want you to do this everyday. The longest I’ve been able to do is a week. Yeah, you can call me on it, my lack of discipline.

Supta Kurmasana. Yeah, right.

(changed the photo to supta kurmasana for ginny)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Starting with sweat

"Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat."
- B.K.S. Iyengar

From a CNN interview:

I saw lots of people practicing yoga where there is absolutely no foundation or firmness in the presentations, and I thought that this type of yoga is not going to help anyone, because it's going to die, because it's like a dust, gathering dust. So I made up my mind, that in order to attract people, I said that each and every fiber of my body, while presenting the asanas, without contortion, without distortion, without attraction, that each and every part of our fibers, sinus, muscles should run parallel to each of them in the core areas. So I started practicing to bring alignment on the joints, on the wrists, on the fingers, on the muscles, on the right and the left, the back and the front... Then it gave me an idea that asanas have to be presented in a measured form.Something struck me that this is not enough, so I had to bring my mind and my intelligence to spread as I stretch, to contract as my muscles contract. And that created a new dimension of presentation, and that new dimension of presentation attracted people more and more. They realized that the body has to be balanced to the level of the mind, and it should be in par with the intelligence of the highest wisdom.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The booming business of yoga

CNN reports that yoga is a booming business. One case study: Vital Yoga in Colorado, which boomed from one studio with the sister-owners teaching all classes to a multi-studio operation with more than 40 teachers. The tension between growth and community limits the size of players in the yoga biz. Consider that Vital Yoga started with a donation-based policy that worked, with a boost from Yelp, but when they went out for growth funds they had to adopt a more traditional business model.

"The large majority of yoga and Pilates studios are just one location," said Caitlin Moldvay, an analyst at IBISWorld. One of the biggest players in the market is CorePower, which has 50 locations across five states. But even CorePower only accounts for 0.5% of the market overall. Other larger players include Dahn Yoga and YogaWorks.
Otherwise, "you have entrepreneurs, mom and pops, who are very much wanting to share" their love of yoga, said David Surrenda, CEO of Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Mass. And "it tends to be small groups that they share it with. It is not like going to Yankee stadium where you have 50,000 people."
A gigantic Wal-Mart-size yoga studio undercuts the intimacy that makes a studio attractive. "One of the things that really drives a studio is that sense of community," said Micah. "You can't cookie-cutter it."

Awakening the psoas

Amazing article from Bandha Yoga on the psoas muscle. The article offers a sequence of poses that first contract and then release the psoas, which runs roughly from the lumbar spine, across the back of pelvis and attaches to the front of the femur.

Psoas is a hip flexor, so it either raises the knee or (if the leg is fixed) bends the torso down. Consciously focusing on psoas during standing poses will activate it and give you the power of this important inner muscle.

Their sequence uses modifications of standing poses to get the hamstrings out of the way so you can really use the psoas. Check out the sequence and see for yourself. Interestingly, the authors say that having awakened psoas, unrelated poses like arm balance somehow become lighter and freer.

The sequence ends with stretching the psoas in purvottanasana (which I found much more accessible after this sequence) and supported setu bandha.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Kofi Busia at Turtle Island Oct. 18

Legendary Iyengar teacher Kofi Busia is teaching a rare class at Turtle Island Yoga in San Anselmo. Here are a few words from Kofi himself:
“The secret of wisdom, of life, and of happiness, lies not in what one knows but rather in finding a Way Of Knowing – or perhaps in a Way Of Finding Out At The Moment Of Wanting To Know. …The path lay right at my feet, … the knowledge lay at my very finger-tips and in my heart in a wonderful present and presence, and…all I had to do was walk that path, take hold of that secret, be fully in the present, and learn to love, revere, and feel that presence.” Later, in thanking all those who have guided him, “even if I were to fall in this world or even in to some other world”, he says “I look forward to the day when I can do as much for all of these good people as they have done for me.”
Kofi Busia is one of the world's foremost teachers in the Iyengar tradition. He has been teaching for over 35 years, has held his Advanced Certificate for over 33 years, and has taught all over the world. Although usually resident in Oxford, England, Kofi Busia is currently based in Santa Cruz, California, where he is in semi-retirement while putting the finishing touches to two books, one of which is an original translation and commentary, direct from the Sanskrit, of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Until this work is complete he will continue to offer only a skeleton number of classes and workshops mainly in the Northern California area. $100/$115 for the all-day workshop. Register here

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Kino on Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana

Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (extended hand-to-toe pose) is one of the most challenging poses in any standing pose series (it comes near the end of the Ashtana standing series). This Kino Macgregor video does a good job of explaining the actions of the pose. She says it's all about a deep inner movement of the head of the femur in the hip joint. In other words, it's not about getting the leg up high but about feeling the femur coming back in the joint during the first phase (standing, leg extended) and that the forward bend (chin to knee) can only come from that deep action.

Similarly, the movement out to the side comes from rotation in the hip joint, and again you don't need the leg up high but the hip (or the femur, really) needs to drop. The pose here is about getting that action, not the full extension necessarily.

What she doesn't mention, but seems critically important is to resist the temptation to bend the standing leg, which must be absolutely strong and lifting. Here's the video...

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A conversation on Mari D

Cheryl wrote:

Thank you, Richard, for this wonderful blog. We yogis are mighty thankful for your efforts.

I definitely agree that Marichyasana D can be a point of frustration for many of us. When all seems to be going swimmingly, along comes D. I think there must be a point when I will quit placing the blame on too many chipatis around my waist or too short of arms.

I like Kimo's suggestions and I'm looking forward to trying them. I agree that a block under the sitting bones can help. An additional block under the lotus knee has also been suggested to me. 
What I found is that lifting the seat doesn't really help that much in D. I now think you have to put the block aside and just roll strongly forward onto the lotus knee. There's still a lot of twisting to get around. John says the twist comes from deep in the groin, not just the belly. And in C (and even A) you need a strong sense of standing into the flat foot. ...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cheryl Thomas Restorative Yoga workshop in Petaluma

Experience restorative yoga with Cheryl Thomas for two hours on Sunday, October 16 at BodyWorks in Petaluma -  and the third Sunday of every month. Here's what Cheryl says:

Restorative Yoga  

I love the response of students to their first or second or hundredth restorative yoga experience.  It's the moment when their nervous system shifts from "yikes!" to "ahhhhhh."  They leave with relaxed shoulders and brightened attitude.  

It's easy to forget that the body knows exactly what to do.  The relaxation response is a built in function of our amazing central nervous system.  We just have to let relaxation happen.  I know, it seems impossible sometimes. Thus, the popularity of restorative yoga where we learn to put the body in positions and let it do it's thing.     

In these workshops you will be allowed to relax and let go while your body is supported with bolsters and blankets and lots more.  We will do a bit of movement, chat about stress and the relaxation response and then spend 90 minutes in positions that we will hold for 15 to 20 minutes.  This practice is for everyone.   Go ahead and put the dates on your calendar now so you won't forget.  And, while you're at it, invite a friend.

Yoga in Graton, Sonoma County

The little hamlet of Graton now boasts not only some cool restaurants like Willow Wood and Underwood, art galleries, and its very own zen center, now there's yoga in Graton, too. Check it out!

Yoga for cancer patients and their caregivers

Sweet article from the Washington Post</a> on how yoga helps caregivers, especially, find some relaxation.

“It’s not infrequent for caregivers to die before the person they’re caring for,” says Helen Lavretsky, a geriatric psychiatrist at UCLA, who recently released the results of a pilot study on the effect of yoga on caregivers. The 39 participants were caring for family members with dementia — not cancer — but the stats are still stunning. Just 20 minutes of a home yoga practice every day for eight weeks significantly reduced their stress levels and improved their quality of life and cognitive abilities.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Westside Yoga Studio Schedule

Check out the current schedule at Westside studio in Sebastopol at

Thoughts on Sun Salutations

The Ashtanga Primary series begins with Surya Namaskar A and B and many Iyengar classes integrate the Sun Salutations. If you go to a "vinyasa" class or power yoga or hot flow, etc., it's all based on the salutations.

Suryas are great for getting the blood moving, lubricating the joints, etc., but they are inherently devotional sequences that allow you to access that feeling of connecting to Something Else. In the Suryas the ujayii breath is very strong, and the movements are linked to breath. The physical exertions are like offerings (I don't know to whom exactly perhaps just to yourself).

Think of sun salutations as devotional movement to achieve a sense of grace and non-self-criticism. Don't think about your physical struggles with keeping the movements going (5 in A and 5 in B is traditional, although 3 B's is the usual around here) but about staying with your offering -- focus on giving your sun salutes rather than suffering for them.

Getting into Marichasana D

One of the more ridiculous poses in the Primary Series is Marichasana D, where one leg folds into half lotus and the other leg is bent with the foot on the floor. You then twist the torso around the bent knee and bind the hands. Right.

In this video, Kino Macgregor demonstrates some useful techniques for getting close to the pose. Most important is moving the weight all the way onto the half-lotus knee and off of the opposite hip. (Don't clench or grip the lotus knee, just allow it to support the weight.) If you lean back (as is natural) you won't be able to get the tight package you need to get the arm around.

Also: since this pose is basically impossible without a lot of preparation, use an intermediate posture of hugging the knee while twisting the spine. Achieve an opening in the twist before obsessing over binding the arms. Though Kino doesn't mention it, sitting on a folded blanket of course helps with the crazier sitting poses.