Yoga Alliance Registration…Is it worth it?

I recently received my yoga teacher training certificate from a 200-hr hatha yoga program that I completed in San Francisco at The Yoga Loft. The program ended in February, but it took me a few months to finish up the apprenticeship because of my move to Los Angeles. We were required to begin an apprenticeship with a teacher from the faculty, which involves attending 15 of their public classes and then observing them for 10 hours. Long story short, it took me a few extra months to finish the observation but I finally did it! Now here we are, ‘diploma’ in hand and I’m really not sure what to do next. Originally there was no doubt in my mind what I was going to do – begin an Iyengar program following the end of the current training and register with the Yoga Alliance as a 200-hour certified teacher in the mean time. That way I’d be legit, right? I assumed that most studios and gyms would expect a 200-hour certification at the very least and having my Yoga Alliance registration would mean I had some legitimacy in the field. Deep down I realize that there are plenty of amazing teachers that probably have never bothered to register with Yoga Alliance and on the flip side there are probably plenty of registered teachers that aren’t qualified to teach. Nevertheless, it seemed like the right thing to do. Yoga Alliance is supposed to give me some kind of benefit, right? At least that is the impression I’m given when I go onto their website and wind through the laundry list of things I have to do to actually become registered with them. Ok, it’s not horrific, but there are a few things that have to be done: fill out an application form, photocopy the completed certificate from the training program attended, pay a $25 application fee, and then a $55 registration fee. The registration is only good for one year, so subsequently you have to renew your membership each year, for another $55. There’s another kicker, to keep in good standing with your registration you have to complete a certain number of hours of Continuing Education credits over a three-year period. 75 hours to be exact – 45 hours of teaching in a classroom setting and 30 hours of continuing education units, 10 of which have to be ‘contact’ hours. I think it’s pretty much a given that I will continue my education in yoga far beyond the hours I spend in my current program, but it’s kind of a pain to have to make sure I document them all and turn them in to the YA.

I guess my big question is IS IT WORTH IT? What do I get in return? Will I really not get hired by a studio because I can’t hand over proof of my YA registration? Seeing as how being registered with the YA means absolutely nothing to the Iyengar community and my certification as an Iyengar teacher is this whole discussion totally moot? I imagined that I would begin to teach in some kind of casual setting between now and the time I actually reach certification as an Iyengar teacher. So that being said, I thought it might be handy to have the YA back-up plan. Especially since I would most likely end up teaching at a gym or some kind of similar setting.

There is so much debate happening right now in the yoga world over the YA and what they are and are not doing for their members. As many of you have probably heard, states are beginning to target yoga studios for regulation and licensing. There is a huge debate over this subject on the web, in blogs and forums. Some are saying that the YA is completely useless and is simply an empty institution taking our money for zero returns. I’ve even read from some that the current belief is the YA might cease to exist in the coming years because of their missteps in the whole state licensing debate. Many yogis are outraged that the YA has done nothing to step up and defend studios from being bullied by state legislators that want to charge them outrageous fees to become licensed. It wasn’t until this current debate that I began to ask myself what’s the point? If the YA may not even exist in the next few years should I just save my $55 and hope that I can find places to teach that will base their decisions on something more concrete than whether or not I have that piece of  paper?

I’d love to hear what others think of this and if they are having the same issue.

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A workshop with Donna Farhi

About a month ago I attended a two-day workshop with Donna Farhi at the Center for Yoga studio.  Saturday’s three-hour workshop was titled ‘Coming Together- the Sacro-Iliac Joint’, and Sunday’s workshop was titled ‘Calm Heart, Calm Mind’. I was SOOOOOO looking forward to this because I have heard about Donna Farhi, master teacher, for quite some time and have read books and articles she’s written. I have been hoping for a chance to meet and study with her, but since she resides in New Zealand, and travels around the world teaching for many months out of the year, the opportunity rarely comes up. I was also excited about both themes for the workshops, as I have recently been having little twingey moments with my sacrum, and the heart-opening/chest theme is always a good one.

So Saturday I make my way over to the studio, which by the way became part of the Yogaworks empire a few years back, and it was swarming with students waiting to get into the workshop. I knew Donna was a pretty popular teacher, but I wasn’t quite expecting this kind of buzz. There were probably about 60 people in attendance. The room was set up with little cushy floor chairs because she was starting with a power point presentation on the anatomy of the SI joint. I was a little disappointed that she spent a full hour on the anatomy. Not that the information was boring or irrelevant, but it left so little time for the good stuff, like moving our bodies and relating the information to our asana practice. We had a small break and then we were back to it, mats unrolled, to begin some asana. I was excited to see what new tidbits I could pick up from her, as she is quite the esteemed teacher, with many years of practice and teaching experience. Overall I enjoyed her manner, her jokes regarding the intensity with which so many yogis practice, and her references to horses (she owns horses and rides daily, apparently). She went into a lengthy discussion about how so many teachers put beginning students into harm’s way by giving them poses like supta padangusthasana (reclining big-toe pose) without telling them how to bring stability to the hip joint while doing it. So she proceeded to put us into supta padangusthasana her way. I’m a visuals kind of person, so my instinct is to draw diagrams and show pictures to explain all of this, but that’s really too complicated for my blogging purposes. So I’ll just describe it as succinctly as possible. Basically we did the pose classically, but with two exceptions. 1- the leg that usually stays extended flat on the floor, was kept bent and out to the side a bit, at an angle, similar to ‘happy baby’ pose. 2- the leg that extends up (often with a belt over the foot, if you have tight hamstrings like me) only goes off to the side (for sup.pad. II) about a third of the way, instead of all the way to the floor. This allows the hip to open without straining the low back too much and therefore causing pain or intensity to come to the sacrum. She emphasized keeping the hip deep into its socket and bringing stability to the pelvic region. Not just hanging out in the pose and allowing the legs to open beyond what was safe for our individual bodies. It did feel pretty good and I could see if I had any pain going on that this would be a nice alternative to doing the pose classically.

After that we moved on to a little bit of partnering work and restorative poses. Not a whole lot gleaned from this portion, but always nice to rest in some restorative poses near the end of an afternoon.

Day two of the workshop was very similar to Day one. She went over another power point presentation in anatomy. One of the things she spoke about on both days that really stuck with me was the idea of working safely within the confines of our individual structure. Don’t fight your own structure. She stressed that we needed to make friends with our bodies and not force it to do things it just isn’t meant to do. To really be ok with our own limitations and to work within them instead of constantly battling them.

Another concept that she spoke about quite a lot was the image of our ribcage being a ‘down bucket’ and our pelvis being an ‘up bucket’. In other words they are shaped like buckets, one with its opening down and the other up. She talked a lot about keeping the two openings of the buckets aligned – keeping the lip of the down bucket sealed with the lip of the up bucket. She demonstrated in standing poses how when one of the buckets is tilted in the opposite direction to the other, there is instability, often causing the lower back to jam.

Virabhadrasana II

For instance, we each got a partner and one person got into Virabhadrasana II, while the second person pushed against the front knee (just under the knee, not directly on it!!) using the webbing between the thumb and index finger. If the ‘doing’ person’s buckets were aligned the weight should automatically shift straight back through their pelvis and down into their back heel. If the ‘doing’ person’s buckets were not aligned and their pelvis was tilting too far forward or their ribcage was popping forward, the weight would jam into their low back causing this area to pinch and cause pain or damage. These habits, or samskaras, of over-extending in the low back or pelvis cause instability and over time can cause injury. This whole concept is nothing new in the Iyengar system, but I’ve never had it described to me in this way. I loved seeing how the weight could be distributed just by shifting slightly in the pelvis or ribcage and I really like the imagery of the buckets. It made it simple for me to think about in the pose and to translate to my students (one day).

We went on to experiment with this in other standing poses like Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose) and Parsvakonasana (extended side angle pose). Going inwards and finding our own bad habits and trying to create new ones. Which is the whole aim of yoga, to purify karma. Something we’ve been talking about a lot in teacher training, so I had to point that out.

We finished with a nice chest opener, Donna’s version of setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose). We took one blanket folded so it was twice the size of a headstand blanket and then made small 4″ pleats in it so it looked like an accordion. With a bolster under the knees, you lie back over this accordion blanket so that it is just under the thoracic spine. We put a rolled blanket under the neck, rolled only part of the way, just so the neck was slightly extended but completely supported. She kept us here for about 7-10 minutes and it felt so lovely! I’d like to add this one to my restorative sequence and the menstruation sequence. Or any day you just feel like you need to be really gentle with yourself.

Over all I enjoyed the workshop with Donna. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I did walk away with a few ideas to chew on for the next few months and some nice alternative poses to give to any students I might come across with SI joint issues. I would recommend taking a workshop with her to find out your own perspective on her style. She definitely teaches from her own experience and does not seem to come from any particular style or lineage. I did not agree entirely with everything she said, being an Iyengar student- that happens all the time, but I think it’s good to challenge your own ideas and to really investigate why you believe something. Do I believe it just because my teacher told me so, or because I found it to be true in my own experience through my own practice? That’s where I’m at right now in my learning, trying to really be authentic to what happens in my own practice and finding the experiential truth in what I’ve been taught.

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practicing the menstrual sequence

Every month as my cycle approaches I tend to dread doing the menstrual sequence. I’ve never been a big fan of forward bends and especially supported ones. They sound like they should feel great, right? SUPPORTED forward bends. Usually anything supported feels pretty yummy and relaxing, but for me these make me feel uncomfortable and head-achey.  Manouso, one of my teachers, often says “If you want to be a popular yoga teacher, don’t teach forward bends.” So I guess I’m not alone.

So this week, when it came time to do the sequence for my home practice, I noticed that I was actually looking forward to a more restful practice. It’s been a hectic month and this week in particular I’ve been feeling really fatigued. So a slower, calming practice seemed really appropriate.

I have a pre-determined sequence given to me by the teacher-training faculty for this time of the month and it even tells me exactly how long I should hold each pose. I’ve included the sequence at the end of this post for any who would like to try it. As much as I’m complaining about it, it actually is a pretty good sequence and I must say I felt pretty good afterwards. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get through the whole thing if you hold the poses for as long as suggested. Depending on how available your props are and how long you take to set things up, it could go a little quicker or a little longer. All of the poses are meant to be supported in one way or another. Usually with a bolster. I’m lucky enough to have a chair and a setu bandha bench, so a couple of the poses are really quick and easy for me to get into.

supported upavista konasana

I tried really hard to open myself up to the forward bends and not just grumble through them, hating every second of it. I realized that maybe my discomfort was from my own ego not letting me prop myself up higher than I think I should. It’s poses like this that really allow you to check yourself. I have officially been checked. Once I gave myself permission to build a huge, soft, cushy wall for my head to rest on, the pose felt so much more relaxing and I could breathe into my hamstrings instead of fidgeting the whole way through. Ok, I confess, I still did a fair amount of fidgeting, but a tower of props teetering on a bolster isn’t the easiest thing to wrangle.

supported viparita dandasana

Once I got through the forward bends it was smooth sailing into sweetness. What I DO love about this sequence is getting to do supta baddhakonasana (see prior post on most loved pose) and a supported version of dwi pada viparita dandasana (two-foot inverted staff pose), which is heavenly to me! I finished with setu bandha sarvangasana (bridge pose) over my homemade bench (made for me by a fellow student in the program who is a fabulous carpenter).

Overall it was a nice sequence and I felt pretty great afterwards. I get to do it all again tomorrow morning and with any luck those forward bends will be even easier with my new attitude!

Menstrual Sequence : all poses done with support

Adho Mukha Virasana (downward-facing hero, or child’s pose – over bolster)          3 min. Adho Mukha Swastikasana (downward-facing crossed legs – head on block)             2 min. Dandasana (staff pose – sitting on blankets)                                                                      2 min. Janu Sirsasana (head-of-knee pose – fold over bolster, rest head)           1 1/2-2 min. /side Triang Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (three limbs face one foot)    1 1/2-2 min./ side Paschimottanasana (back body intense stretch – over bolster, rest head)                3-5 min. Upavista Konasana (seated angle pose – fold arms on chair, rest head)                        3 min. Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose – rest head on chair or bolster)                           3 min. Supta Baddha Konasana (reclining bound angle pose -lie back onto bolster)              5 min. Supta Virasana (reclining hero’s pose – lie back onto bolster)                                       5 min. Viparita Dandasana (inverted staff pose – sit in chair, lie back w/ head on bolster)  5 min. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (bridge pose – on bench or lying on bolsters)                  5 min. Adho Mukha Swastikasana (as before, first pose)                                                           1 min. Savasana                                                                                                                             5-10 min.

supta baddhakonasana over bolster

Tell me what you think if you try it.

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workshop with Carrie Owerko

Carrie Owerko

I had the chance to take a workshop this weekend with Carrie Owerko, a senior Iyengar yoga teacher from NYC that teaches at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of NY. What an amazing teacher and fantastic workshop!! Carrie’s knowledge of the sutras and yogic philosophy is obviously quite extensive and she weaves this knowledge into her class in a beautiful way that really makes it accessible.

It was a three-hour workshop and she covered so many things it would take me ages to share all of it. So I’ll just touch on some highlights that I really enjoyed. First, I just want to say that Carrie has a very warm, fun-loving, compassionate personality that fills the room when she is teaching. Iyengar yoga teachers have had a bad rap over the years, sometimes described as being cold, strict, mean, or harsh. Carrie is none of those things and it is so nice to see a teacher at this level be so playful and inquisitive. You really get the sense that you are along for the ride, as she examines and experiments with poses, philosophy, principles, and ideas of the practice. Laughing and in awe of what she finds. It was a real joy to experience this.

A theme that she touched on several times throughout the weekend was the idea of approaching the pose with two things in mind: center of gravity and direction. Where is your center of gravity and where are you going? Are you moving up, down, back, forward? She’s not just meaning the direction you move in to get into the pose, but the action of the pose while you are in it. Like when you are in downward-facing dog and although your body is no longer moving, there is an action while you are in the pose, the action of drawing upwards. If you ask yourself where is your center of gravity and what direction are you going in, you can really begin to understand the pose and what the actions are. How you can refine it, change it, and explore it. We did a lot of this in the workshop. Putting our feet up on blocks for downward-facing dog, then doing the pose without the blocks to see the difference. Where does it feel different, why does it feel different, and what can I do with this information?

We worked a lot with the shoulders and the outer rotation of the arms. She showed us several variations on setting up for pincha mayurasana. First with the block in its usual place, but the arms are not belted, and the hands are on the outside of the block, even the thumbs. The thumbs rest along the sides of the block and the fingers turn out, so the upper arms rotate from inside out. This keeps the elbows from spreading out and therefore eliminates the need for a belt. It puts the shoulder blades right where you want them so you’re more supported going into the pose. Then we rolled a mat and placed it just under the elbows so the upper arms were slightly elevated (playing with our center of gravity). We used a belt this time and turned the palms to face the block, so our lower arms, wrists, and palms were like they are in sirsasana. Except the palms were squeezing the block instead of clasped. This also helps teach beginning students the arms for sirsasana.

Throughout the entire workshop she had us coming back to the turned-out hands position, repeating it for many other poses so they all linked together through this action, and showed us how the work of the shoulders and arms is very much the same for so many poses. We carried this into our sirsasana by holding the block in the same way as we did for pincha mayurasana and placing the back of the head against the block. My shoulders were insanely tired by this point, so I bobbled and wobbled the entire time I was in the pose. We then carried this arm rotation and hands-turning-out action into our work with backbends, like dwi pada viparita dandasana (two foot inverted staff pose).

dwi pada viparita dandasana

By the end of the three hours I was tired, mushy, and really happy that I had listened to my friend and signed up for this workshop. Carrie’s coming back to the institute in December and I am already anticipating her return. I can’t wait to play and laugh and see what gems she will reveal to us.

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Flow vs. Iyengar

Ashtanga yoga class - courtesy of EvanLovely

Like most yogis I know, I didn’t just take up the practice of Iyengar yoga in the very beginning and stay true blue through the years leading up to now. My first ever yoga class was…dare I say it…a Bikram yoga class. Yes, I willingly admit it. I went with a group of girlfriends who all wanted to try this thing called yoga and the only studio we could find near our workplace was Bikram. It didn’t take long for me to realize the heat just wasn’t for me, but there was something to it that hooked me and luckily I didn’t give up on it. I just moved on to another style.

In those days I was more concerned about proximity to work and the cost of classes, so I hopped around from studio to studio, teacher to teacher, perusing the different styles and partaking of anything that would fit into my schedule and go easy on my wallet. Then a good friend recommended I try ‘It’s Yoga’ , an Ashtanga studio in San Francisco, south of Market St. The studio is gone now, but at the time it had quite the cult following and Larry, the owner and a teacher, was practically considered a celebrity. Hordes of people poured into the classes, rushing in from their jobs, mat and yoga pants in hand, desperate to sweat out the day’s stresses and office politics. That place was like an addiction and I soon found myself high on the euphoria of Ashtanga yoga. The pace, the sequence, the sweat, that lovely mix of work-out meets calm, peaceful mindedness. I also loved the fact that I could do it anywhere, anytime. Because there were no props involved and the sequence was more or less set in stone, I could do it on my back porch on the weekends when I didn’t want to drive into the city from my apartment in Berkeley, or when I was traveling around Europe for 4 months one summer. I didn’t have to think about what poses I should practice or if I could find blankets or even that much space. I’d just roll out my mat and do the modified primary series. I was hooked.

But then came the dreaded injury! It didn’t actually happen because of my practice, it was a work-related injury that just built up over time, a sort of repetitive stress thing with my wrist. But I became painfully aware over time that by the end of the sun salutations I was gripping my wrist and finding it harder and harder to keep going without my wrist nearly giving out. Arm balances, backbends, chattarunga, my wrist just couldn’t take the weight or the constant strain. I could do these poses separately, for short periods of time, but not after 10 to 15 sun salutations. It was excruciating. I finally asked the teacher one night about it and he told me to just keep going, that my wrist would eventually strengthen. So naively, I kept going – but not for long.

I started searching again, going through the myriad of studios dotted around the East Bay and San Francisco. So many to choose from, it was a fun adventure. Classes with music, classes at the gym, classes with uber-hippy teachers, classes done entirely with a partner, classes that ended with crashing cymbals -you name it, I tried it. I found a vinyasa flow class at my gym that had a great teacher, so I wrapped my wrist in an ace bandage and got through the sun salutations as best I could. She didn’t have us do many and I managed to modify them enough to get by. This seemed to work ok until one day I came out of class and I thought “I’m not really going anywhere with this.” My practice hit a plateau. The sequences in class didn’t feel exciting anymore and my poses weren’t changing. I was going through the motions. Oddly enough, around this time I changed jobs and was given a discounted rate to join a super fancy-pants gym downtown near my office. I had been tossing around the idea of not joining a gym and just having a membership at a yoga studio because I couldn’t afford both. Not to mention I was battling with the idea that as a ‘serious’ yogi I should really be practicing at a proper studio, not at a gym alongside Fabio and his thong-wearing girlfriend who just wanted to stretch their quads ( I was a little bit of a yoga snob then). But the fancy-pants gym won me over with its long list of yoga classes, beautiful new equipment, SAUNA, swimming pool, and provided towels. Thank the heavens that I did, because that is where I found my beloved Iyengar teacher, Athena. I had taken an Iyengar yoga class a while back when I was experimenting with studios and such, but I found it excruciating to spend 2/3 of the class time working on triangle pose. I just wasn’t ready for it. I couldn’t grasp the importance of such a thing. But in walks Athena and all that changed! Her class was tough, well paced, challenging, deep, and FUN! She was giving me instructions left, right and center, and I was barely able to keep up. Rotate my inner thigh outwards and my outer calf inwards! Who thinks this is possible? Everything I knew about my poses I could throw out the window. She was re-programming everything I knew about yoga. As I watched her deftly teach all levels of students, alongside pregnant women, folks with injured backs, busted knees, the stiff, the weak, I realized this was the real deal. I had found what I was looking for. Within weeks my practice changed dramatically. It wasn’t about doing pretzel poses or even flexibility, it was about learning to do poses properly, with attention and mindfulness, and doing them safely. I was able to refine my poses immensely, to really get in touch with my body and my mind. My practice began to grow again and it continues to grow every day. I can not say a big enough thank you to my teacher, Athena, for this gift. It is because of her that I have begun to truly understand what yoga has to offer. She planted the seed that grew into a desire to teach. She continues to inspire me all the time.

I try very hard not to be a yoga snob these days or to put down any other system or practice of yoga. All rivers run to the sea, as all paths of yoga lead to the same destination. I simply tell my friends who are training to become teachers or wanting to try yoga to give an Iyengar class a try. There is something to be said for its foundations for learning, whether you use it to enhance your practice and continue on a path of other styles or systems. It certainly can’t hurt to add a little something to your experience.

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Supta Baddha Konasana – the love of my life

reclining bound angle pose

The yoga sages’ gift to the world is supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose). I could lie in this pose all afternoon. The only thing I look forward to when I get my period is the excuse to do this pose for 10 minutes a day for the duration of my cycle. I mean let’s face it, if it wasn’t for that pose (and maybe dwi pada viparita dandasana over a chair with my head on a bolster) I would never get the motivation to do the menstrual sequence.  There’s just something so yummy about lying back in this pose, over a cozy bolster, arms out to the side, chest expanding, knees extending and the groins releasing, the belly softening and relaxing back.  It is always a surprise to me, although it happens every time, when I lie back in the pose and think ‘Ahhh, I’m so relaxed, this is really comfortable, I’m totally letting go’ and then about 2 or 3 minutes later I feel my groins release and my knees slide apart another 1/2 inch or so. What the heck? I thought I had let go, released my tension, opened up. But those ol’ tight groins fooled me again. Little did I know I had been gripping and holding that entire time. Then slowly, layer by layer, you feel things shift and soften and truly release down into the bolster/floor/what have you. The bliss comes. And it takes so much effort to pull myself up out of that pose and move on to the next posture. Luckily its two friends are along for the ride – supta virasana and setu bandha sarvangasana (over bolsters). So I can milk another 15 minutes out of this blissful practice!! Another reason to love this thing called yoga.

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The elixir of teacher training programs!

I just returned from my teacher training program (TTP) class and I am feeling high as a kite. I had a friend and colleague from my last training program tell me that TTP was the gateway drug. That once you participate in one of these programs, you just can’t stop. It becomes an addiction and before the first program is over you’re already researching other programs, workshops, and conferences that you can sink your teeth into. How right she is! Before I could even finish my first training program (a 200 hours, 5-month, Hatha Yoga training), I had already attended the Orientation/Introduction of a second program! This one, a 3-year, well over 500 hours, Iyengar Yoga training program, that prepares one to go before a panel of assessors in hopes of obtaining certification. Actually, you have to pass two assessments in a no-less-than two year period to become officially certified. The first assessment simply gives you teacher-in-training status. This is no joke – this is a serious commitment!

So what is it about yoga that is so drug-like? Why do I float out of class, with a silly grin on my face, drunk on sanskrit, with strange wooden props bulging from my tote bag? I guess it’s a bit of everything. I’ve always loved school (I know, super nerdy) and I’m fascinated with learning. Yoga has it all – science, history, mythology, spirituality, philosophy, anatomy, language, you name it! There’s a common thread in yoga, that comes up in other experiences in life, that touches us deeply and fills us with joy. If you’ve ever made art, you’ve probably felt it there too, or played a musical instrument, or lost yourself in cooking an exquisite meal. I used to do wheelthrowing, making clay pots on a potter’s wheel, and I often thought about the connection between that process and yoga. I could spend two hours on the wheel, sculpting and refining a bowl or a jar, and lose all sense of space and time. I would look up from my work to see that two hours had gone by and I would be amazed, because it felt like only an instant had passed. I was completely lost in my work, lost in that spinning clay, and the concentration it took not to bobble the piece, breathing slow deep breaths, never taking my eyes off of the clay. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m practicing yoga.  Mr. Iyengar calls it meditation in action.  That intense concentration that brings you into the present moment, when everything else slips away, and your mind is calm and quiet! THAT’S the drug, that’s the feeling that we come back for time and time again. Sure, the feeling is elusive and some days we don’t even get a glimpse of it. But once you’ve tasted the elixir, you can’t forget it. It’s in your veins!

My whole intention was to talk about my fabulous class tonight, but somehow I got sidetracked. Oh well, I guess writing about asana modifications would have turned out to be a boring post anyway. Maybe tomorrow I’ll figure out how to make it a worthy subject. Night-night.

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Fear and dread…

After a four-week summer break, tonight my teacher training program resumes. Why do I find myself, every Monday afternoon, full of fear and dread? Counting down the minutes before I have to shove off to class and face the inevitable – the possibility of having to teach my peers! Shouldn’t I be excited and enthusiastic? I’m pursuing my dream of becoming a yoga teacher. How else am I ever going to make that dream a reality if I don’t actually practice teaching?? Why can’t I have the attitude of my friend and fellow trainee, who once told me after I confided that I was afraid to step into class that night, “Why are you nervous? Teaching is fun!” Um, ok, sure. Then why do I find myself hiding in the back of the room, averting my eyes when the teacher looks around for the next ‘volunteer’ to step up to the mat and teach the next pose. The irony is, I signed up for this! I paid good money to be here! No one’s forcing me to do this! Of course all of this fear just brings up doubts of whether or not I am cut out for teaching, whether or not I can really pull this off. I start to second guess myself and my intentions for being here. I know there is a yogic lesson in all of this, part of this process is to address fears, to look inside myself and examine the deeper layers of who I am and what needs work. It’s one thing to expect and accept that I will have to work at this, but it’s a whole other thing to actually DO the work.

Well, here goes. There’s no time like the present!

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Home practice – yikes! Yeah!

my practice room

One of the fantastic things about moving to Los Angeles and into a new apartment is SPACE!! We lived in a very small 2-bedroom apartment in the Mission, in San Francisco, for five years, with my husband, our dog, and (the majority of that time) my brother-in-law. Space was always an issue and the thing I complained about the most. So whenever teachers would urge me to start a home practice my first response would be ‘Yeah, right! WHERE?’ . When my brother-in-law moved out, we converted his bedroom into an office/guest room/yoga space. Just by the description, you can imagine how much yoga was actually practiced in that room. But I tried.

Now we live in a 2-bedroom apartment, in Los Feliz, that has a separate space that we use as an office, and our second bedroom really is a guest bedroom…and my very own private yoga studio. Since we don’t have the cash to create an honest-to-goodness guest room with a real bed, side table, etc., it’s mostly empty, except for tubs filled with craft supplies and sewing bits along one wall, and my countless props, yoga books, and empty space on the other. You can’t imagine how awesome this feels! I have my mat rolled out, with three blankets stacked on one end, ready for action 24/7. At any moment of any given day I can walk in there, shut the door, and pop into handstand, or down dog, or shoulderstand. What a feeling! (sung out, loudly, like Irene Cara)

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to kid you and say that now I practice at home every single day. There are still all the same obstacles that face most of us on a daily basis and keep many from going to their mats. Like needing to get some work done, needing to walk the dog, thinking I just HAVE to run that errand right now instead of practicing, or just plain ol’ not in the mood. My favorite excuse I hand myself all the time now is ‘It’s really too hot in the apartment right now. I’ll practice when it cools down.’ The list can be endless unfortunately. No matter how many yoga props I acquire, or new cushy nice-smelling mats, or my very own big fat practice room, it’s still hard. But that’s part of the practice too, right? Cultivating tapas. Tapas is one of the niyamas of Astanga Yoga. Tapas is that internal fire that keeps us on the path of yoga, that insists we get on our mat today because it’s going to feel so good and we are going to be so grateful once we’ve done it.

So I do. I get on my mat. Not every day, but most days. As part of my practice, I try to remind myself to be grateful for what I have. To be ever so grateful for that big, sunny, open room I have, and to be grateful for the inspiration that drags me in there at 6:30am to practice before the rest of the house wakes up. And I’m grateful for the ability (sometimes) to forgive myself when I can’t seem to get out of bed and go in there to practice. That too is part of yoga and sometimes the most forgotten. Being kind to yourself and not beating yourself up about missing class, or not being as flexible as the girl next to you, or thinking about what you’re going to make for dinner while doing pranayama. It’s not easy, but I’m giving it a shot. One day at a time…

stash of books in my practice room for quick referencing

Jack loves chilling in here. He's drawn to the mat.

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workshop with Sri H.S. Arun

Sri H.S. Arun

Ok, so I’m new at this blogging stuff, and now that I have it up and running, I’m playing catch up by going back over my previous month and chatting about the things I’ve done that have been really exciting! Like taking a workshop with Sri H.S. Arun from Bangalore, India. He has studied extensively with B.K.S. Iyengar and his children (Geeta and Prashant Iyengar) and has taught yoga for over 30 years. He has a very disarming manner that puts you at ease straight away, not to mention a great sense of humor. This is one of the first workshops at the Institute that did not require at least 6 months of prior Iyengar Yoga practice, so I was able to talk my husband into attending it with me. Arunji was here for three days, but we decided to attend the Saturday workshop ‘From Roots to Branches’ focusing on standing poses. One of the things I found so inspiring about him was his ability to teach every level of student in the class without leaving anyone behind. He did it with lightness and ease and gave everyone, even the advanced teachers in the room, something to work with, something that they hadn’t gotten before. That is a sign of a great teacher.

He showed us how to use a chair for all of the various standing poses, but not in a way that I had ever used one before. We must have done 15 versions of Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle pose) with the chair – sometimes facing us, sometimes facing the wall, sometimes sideways. We used the chair to support the thighs in bent leg poses like Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II pose) and Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle pose). He took supported versions of standing poses and made them new and inventive in a way that made even a well-seasoned practitioner grab their notebook after class and scribble down notes. This is something that I appreciate most about the Iyengar system, that it is endless and limitless. There are a million permutations of the asanas, you can never get bored or feel like you’ve come to the end. This path is one that can last you a lifetime – a lifetime of exploration and discovery!

Anyone who is going to be in the Bay Area in September, Arunji will be teaching a weekend of workshops at the Iyengar Institute of San Francisco.

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