Jun 28, 2013

The Yoga Comics: Guide to rest days

Via The Yoga Comics:
Ashtanga yoga practice helps us to cultivate more awareness and sensitivity within our relationships with the earth, others, and ourselves. One way we grow this balance of gentleness and strength is by giving equal effort to holding on and to letting go to when we do and not do our asana practice. We diligently hold on to our asana practice on most days and we softly let go of our asana practice on rest days.

Some examples of typical rest days are:
  • Taking off moon days and Saturday (or Sunday) gives us time to spend with our families.
  • Taking off fever days allows us to give our full strength to heal when we are sick.
  • Taking off ladies' holidays honors and nurtures our bodies' natural rhythms.
  • Taking off 6 weeks - 3 months after giving birth to allow the body to rest, heal and regain strength.
If you are wondering if you should practice, ask your teacher.
Here is also a useful post of the topic of when not to practice:

Cartoon by: Boonchu Tanti
Editors: Jessica Walden and Elise Espat

Jun 11, 2013

Can I practice if...?

Mahesh asks:
Was checking about if Ashtanga was suitable for me or not. So the first thing is suryanamaskar and then padmasana?

As I know padmasana needs lot of practice and most basic thing is lot of hip joint flexibility. Making a person jump to padmasana directly wouldn't break/weaken the knee?
Mahesh, this is a really reasonable concern.  I remember when I first saw a picture of someone practicing ashtanga.  I was horrified!  I thought to myself "oh, this yoga is only for very advanced athletes who are wildly flexible and strong, etc."  It took a long time before I realized that what I was seeing in the picture was not at all what I would be expected to do in my own practice...at least not right away.

My favorite Ashtanga FAQs always include a line about how one should avoid looking at asana stuff on the internet, blogs, youtube, etc.  Often we get really enthusiastic about something and want to learn everything we can about it and so we get books, magazines, videos, etc. hoping that exposure to the information will help us get closer to that thing we are enthusiastic about.  While this is often helpful -- we do need information in order to know what to do and how to go about doing it -- it can also be very confusing and misleading.

Yogic texts always include a line or two about how you can't experience yoga from just reading books or from having all the gear or the perfect clothes.  You're suppose to practice.  That's what the whole 1% theory 99% practice thing is all about.  The best way to go about this is one-on-one with a good teacher.

The hard part about talking about what we do in practice in a public forum like a website or whatever is that it is completely individual.  So, to your point, do we always start with surya namaskar?  Yeah, we do, but it might not look like what it looks like in a yoga demo video on youtube.  I mean, think about it, most of the time something gets published because it is nice looking.  The reality is usually much different...  Imagine someone who has a broken leg.  Do they start with surya namaskar?  Yes.  But maybe their teacher has them do the whole thing on the floor or with a chair or in bed.  This is why it is important to work with a teacher.  They can provide the appropriate instruction and develop a curriculum just for you.

Do we always finish with padmasana, even as a beginner?  Yeah, we do, but it might not be in the exact shape you are thinking of.  Asana should be steady and sweet and one should work gradually, slowly, consciously, and consistently, over a long period of time.

The important thing to remember is that this is a breath-based practice.  If you can breathe, you can practice.  The second is that asana is only one of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga.  Maybe you will simply sit in a chair for your padmasana and that is perfect.  Not everyone needs to bend into a pretzel.  But everyone definitely can practice the drishtis, the breathing, and the quality of steady and sweet asana.  Everyone definitely can practice ahimsa (yama is the first limb of Ashtanga yoga and ahimsa is the first yama)...

Look for a traditional Mysore program and as my teacher says "No fearing, you come!"

Here is also a sweet post you might find inspiring:
"The importance of a daily yoga practice" by Ivey DeJesus

Jun 8, 2013

Weekend Edition # 12: Injury Inspiration

Life happens.  Relationship troubles, financial troubles, work troubles, the weather, illness, digestion troubles, injuries...  In yoga, all these things and more are summed up as the "three miseries" or  "three obstacles".  They are:
adhyātmika --miseries of body and mind
adhibhautika --miseries from other living creatures
adhidaivika --miseries from natural/supernatural disturbances
These names are old and the miseries timeless.  They will always come to us and they always have.  If we wait to practice until the obstacles stop, then we will probably never practice.  It is easy to do some asanas when we feel nice and there is a nice view and the teacher is nice and there was no traffic and we get the spot we like and everything is going well.  We should definitely be grateful and notice when we have it easy.  But often it is when things are not going well, when things are very hard or seem impossible when the true meaning of yoga is there for us to realize.  It is then when we have the opportunity to really practice and to rise to the occasion.

Eventually, practice becomes the baseline, the steady beat of our lives.  Before that, each time an obstacle arises, we ask ourselves "should I practice if...?"  It is in this moment when we begin to explore our intentions and the meaning of the practice.  This is the moment when a lot of people - confusing yoga with the mere performance of asanas - quit.  This is also the moment when others start to question their motivations and show up anyway.

To anyone who has ever shown up anyway, started from the ground up, or who has fallen to rock bottom from the highest cliff knows the feeling.  The infinite sorrow, the despair, the irrational impossibility... and then when we are patient just a few moments later, the warmth of humility and the curious strength of complete surrender.  It is the relief of having nothing to prove, no expectations, and nothing but the here and now.  All of a sudden it all comes together - the showing up, the exploration of what the asana practice is really asking, the patience of being sensitive and receptive - and it starts to seep into every other part of our lives.  We start to make connections between all of our actions throughout the day and the world around us.  The definition of asana as a "steady and sweet seat" becomes the establishment of a constant steady and sweet connection with the earth. We start to realize that we can always practice and that the effort toward steadiness of mind is what we have been cultivating all along.

In times of injury or bodily obstacle, our asana practice may change, but it is important to remember that there are 7 other limbs of Ashtanga yoga that can be practiced all the time.  But this post is about injuries and here are some sources of inspiration if you are finding yourself grappling with bodily obstacles:

"Breathing the practice" by Jangalikayamane
"Healing injuries with Ashtanga Yoga" by Paul Mitchell Gold

One final note:  everything is relative.  An emotional blow feels 100% as devastating to the person experiencing it as a broken arm feels to the person experiencing the broken arm.  Just show up.  Identify with the true nature of the self.  Let go of the asanas.  Make showing up to practice about others and something larger than yourself (Ishvarapranidhana).  Showing up anyway is a chance to add to the group energy, to inspire others who are also having a tough time.  It is a chance to be grateful and for tapas... for it often takes some serious obstacles for us to open to the possibility of yoga.

Jun 7, 2013

How to learn Ashtanga yoga

People are sometimes a little confused about what Led and Mysore classes are, what they are for, who they are for, etc. Here's the rundown from the main shala in Mysore, India (KPJAYI) and authorized teacher Magnolia Zuniga.

Mysore in a nutshell via KPJAYI:
All students commence their instruction in the same manner in which on the first day of class they are taught Surya Namaskar A, followed by Padmasana and deep breathing, and a few minutes of rest to conclude their first day of practice. The next day after Surya Namaskar A has been performed, Surya Namaskar B is taught, and one then again concludes in the same method as the previous day, with Padmasana, deep breathing, and rest. After both of the Surya Namaskar have been learned correctly, each of the various asanas are added one by one. When one asana is correct, the next one is taught.
Led class in a nutshell via KPJAYI:
Because of the difficult nature of remembering and mastering the various vinyasas, on Fridays and Sundays, group guided classes are taught, in which all the vinyasas are counted out loud and all students follow along together accordingly. 
For a deeper look and further explanation, read Magnolia Zuniga's post at Mysore SF.  Here's a little taste:
I know, I know, you’re not in India. I get it. But you are in a city/town/place where you have responsibilities and an active life. All the more reason to take it slow and be reasonable with your expectations. Supta Kurmasana is certainly not a beginner posture. Just because it’s called primary series, that doesn’t speak to it’s actual level of proficiency necessary to do the postures safely.  Continue reading...

Jun 3, 2013

Summer Schedule 2013

Class Schedule : June/July/August 2013
Sundays 8:15 - 9:45 am Led Primary Series
Mondays 6:30 - 9:45 am Mysore
Tuesdays 6:30 - 9:45 am Mysore
Wednesdays 6:30 - 9:45 am Mysore
Thursdays 6:30 - 9:45 am Mysore
Fridays 6:30 - 7:45 am Led Primary Series

Doors open at 6:30 am Sunday and 6 am Monday-Friday.
Doors close at 10 am Sunday - Thursday and 9 am Friday.

Schedule updates here.

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