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!