Sunday, September 28, 2008

Back bend'est week of my yoga life

It was back bend mahem all this week. Starting Monday with Nina's back bend class, where I could barely raise my head in Urdhvadhanurasana and completely collapsed in Pinchmayurasana. Then on to Wednesday in Jen's class where there was some progress. I could pull off a pinchmayurasana without any help. Finally to this Friday with Nuvana for a serious back bend immersion.

A one on one session that involved practicing many intermediate steps for being able to lift my head up in that pose. And I finally did it. I could finally lift beyond the crown of my head which included a finale at the gym this morning with Nuvana... It was all about back bends..... Back Bends! Back Bends! Back Bends! I am completely savoring them now.

Back bends have mean't being up later than I need to every night. Seriously its hard to fall asleep. But all in all its been an awesome learning and experience. Friday was a great class with Nuvana. We went through various poses to get to the ultimate - UrdhvaDhanurasana.. and finally today I was able to do it without any assistance. Mission accomplished. I am including some practice shots. Small baby steps shown. I have still a long ways to go....
But the best news of all - I was able to secure a place to the Bangalore trip with Guruji on his 90th birthday celebration... all the back bends were worth it! It was an exciting back bend'est week of my entire yoga life!

Some pictures of some of the steps I learned in the practice all week....

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Back to Level 2 - Jen is a Gem!

A number of my fellow yogi friends at Sunset Yoga have been raving about Jen Shonk, a fairly new teacher at the center (well she has been there for sometime now). Today I decided to take a level 2 class from her as I will be missing my regular Monday night class next week which Jen attends as well. So a make up in advance....

I must say that this was one of the best classes I have recently taken. Jen started with the patanjali chant in a virasana position; a new variation for me. I had forewarned her that back bends and pinch mayurasana were my nemesis. I mentioned my back problems but forgot to mention about my knee problems. Her class felt like more of a level 2/3 rather than a level 2 and it reminded me of the Saturday morning level 2/3 with Nina, which I am no longer able to take.

After a series of Uttanasana and Adho Mukha Svanasana poses we moved into hand stand(s). Today was not my day for Adho Mukha Vrksasana, despite a fair amount of practice last Friday and then in class on Monday night. But I managed one with some assistance. I think this happens when I am thinking too much on how to get into the pose. Jen encouraged us to try to balance. This was a small class so Jen was able to give each one of us personal attention. She suggested trying with both legs - I usually go up with my right leg. My left leg refuses to lift up... practice practice practice, those words from Enlighten up! echo in head. Detach Detach Detach I had to tell myself ...

Next there were was a shoulder and arm strengthening exercise prior to one of my nemesis - Pinch Mayurasana! I have only been successful a few times in performing this pose and mostly in intense practice with Nuvana. Jen explained the pose in intricate detail including how to position your thumb and index finger around the blocks that are flush against the wall. There has to be a gap and the wrists firmly bent inwards, and upper shoulders pushed back. Revelation! I always had them flushed with the block. Up I went on my first try and I could even balance.

There were no sighs, no grunts or groans, as I have become conscious of them since Monday. I was simply relieved and overjoyed as I had miserably failed in performing this asana on Monday along with the back bends. "Thanks Jen" is what came out. I tried a second time and it worked. I was tired by the third try - my heart is racing.... I drop back and held back my groan, but hey everyone else is groaning, so why was I picked out on Monday :) ! There is a whole blog post coming on groaning in class ....At least I didn't fart or exhibit bad body odor....but groaning, how can you not, especially when you have tight hamstrings and you are pushing yourself to really get into the pose...Detach, Detach, Detach from these thoughts, I had to repeat to myself!

We moved to Trikonasana and the revolved version next, with the back foot flush against the wall. I asked Jen why my neck felt so tight. She got me back into the pose and showed me how to avoid it. Just let go of your head and keep it in line with your body and not raise it, just rotate it as you rotate your chest... what a revelation and several in class had the same problem..

We eventually moved to back bends, Urdhva Dhanurasana, and started off with inclined blocks on the wall along with a bolster. Back bends are the least practiced poses for me. My experience today and in Monday's class tells me I need to start practicing this more often. I actually did better than Monday. I could get raise with the crown of my head and felt the strength to raise higher still in my second attempt. I couldn't go beyond the head without the blocks and bolster, so Jen had me switch positions. She asks me to grab her legs and she pulled me up into the real pose.. At the same time I am hearing groaning from another fellow victim of tightness..I feel the thoughts around groaning coming back into my head again, I am developing a groan/noise complex.. I quickly had to detach to another more joyful one..

Wow I said to myself.. that felt good. I used to do this easily when I was 10. And now at 43, years of lethargy, bad posture, sitting at a desk all day in front of computer results in tight shoulders, hips, back, hamstrings.. u name a body part and I can claim the tightness. Somewhere in the sequence of back bends there was a wall supported Ustrasana and Viparita Dandasana on chair. Serious work out...

The shavasana at the end felt great even though my eyes remained wide open and I had a slight cough. Next time I need to raise my head a bit. I liked Jen's style. I told her I would be back again next time I need a make up. I think its great to try different teachers. Nuvana encourages me to, as every teacher has a unique way of teaching. You get a different perspective on different poses, and sometimes those unique "gems" in form of instructions can overcome your nemesis. But nothing beats "practice, practice, practice".. and "just being yourself"... and yes I am getting there...


The Yogi

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Energy flow into an asana - Its the breath!

This Friday with Nuvana was eye opening. My yoga practice goes through these up and down cycles every few months. I am currently in a down cycle - though for once I could perform an Ardha Chandra Asana (Half Moon Pose) completely balanced in my Monday night class with Nina. I received many corrections from Nina for which I am very grateful. How can you not know your knees are bent in Uttanasana? I guess when your brain is disengaged and deep in thoughts that happens ! :)

In this session I wanted to just focus on improving my inversions - Adho Mukha Vriksasana and Sirsasana - just these two poses. We started off with an interesting variation. A transition to Uttanasana (Intense forward bend) by spreading the arms out sideways, rather than the Urdhva Hastasana pose, and the gradually bending forward to get into the pose. I could touch the floor immediately....She remarked "observe how your energy and breath as you get into this pose". As you breath out, the energy starts to gradually dissipate, just as you turn on the tap on a water bucket. I had to try it a couple of times to really understand this concept. Eventually she said you will feel more energized rather than tired after an intense asana.

Quickly we moved into some very intense Adho Mukha Svanasana. The idea was to help me increase my energy levels while I performed such intense asanas, especially in the inversions, where you need incredible amount of energy and abdominal strength to stay up and balanced. Having your hips and tail bone completely uplifted and backs straight help provide the space and energy to maintain the length in your body and room to kick up. Aligning of your breath along with it, and release of breath as you try to remain in the asana controls the energy you need to maintain in order to stay in the asana.

It will be sometime till I experience the re-energizing post asana. I was completely spent in the dog pose (variations) and panting like a dog. A stump pose break was necessary to get my breathing in control.

Next thing I know I had kicked up into the hand stand and my older kid started clicking pictures. It was the first time in a few months since I have done this pose and stayed up for more than 5 seconds. It felt good and we did it at least three times. Then there was an intense leg spread forward bend against the wall. It really helps stretching out those tight hamstrings.

It was on to Sirsasana balancing after that. Face towards the wall, with a distance of the feet and hips. We normally face away from the wall, if trying a sirsasana with wall support. This is the opposite and it prevents one from bending their backs, as the body tends to do that knowing there is a wall for support. I am able to balance much better with this practice.

Practice, practice, practice - that needs to be my mantra if I am to improve my inversions....
The Yogi

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Enlighten Up! the movie - Up Close and Personal with Kate Churchill and Nick Rosen

This past Friday night, I had the pleasure of attending the Boston premiere of a beautiful movie about yoga - Enlighten Up! It is directed by writer, documentary film director and fellow yogini Kate Churchill. The premise of this movie comes from a local Boston couple Ted and Jeanne Hagerty who met yoga guru and indologist Norman Allen in Hawaii in 2003. They were inspired by him, which sparked a passion to create a movie on yoga, their first movie production. Ted and Jeanne connected with Kate to create the concept behind the movie "A skeptic's journey into the world of yoga".

Kate found Nick Rosen, a journalist by profession who had recently quit his job, He was mountain climbing in Europe when Kate offered him the opportunity to be the subject. Nick was a yoga novice, a skeptic, but at the same time a very intelligent and thoughtful man, who had grown up on a farm in Quebec and exposed to eastern philosophies and religious movements of the 70s. Kate was hoping to transform Nick by putting him on this 6 month journey of exploration and learning of yoga by connecting him to some of the great yoga luminaries in the US and India. She hoped that some of that transformation at the end would rub on her and she would gain some enlightenment from that experience as well.

The six month adventure started in New York City where Nick was introduced to yoga through classes at a variety of yoga studios in the city. Nick's struggles to get into the various contortions and poses are funny and reminiscient to many of us die hard yogis, as it reminds us of our own struggles, the challenges, the fears and the exhaustion we faced when first took a yoga class.

Nick tries several classes including Hatha, Vinyasa, Bikram, Dharma Mitra, Jivamukti and Kundalini. His conversations with the teachers and fellow students are honest. funny and real as he as he attempts to understand the true meaning of yoga. He is struggling with his understanding and feeling pressure to develop this "transformation". He is constantly being questioned and challenged by Kate, who expects him to continually evolve on this path of enlightenment. He describes Kundalini - Kundalooney, causing the audience to break into laughter.

Nick is on a compressed journey and his first "true yogic experience" occurs in Hawaii when he travels to the big island to experience yoga with Norman Allen. Norman is the inspirational character behind the movie. He spent many years in India studying Indian Religion and History and is a gold medalist from Mysore University. He also brought Ashtanga yoga to America. Nick is challenged in many ways, both physically, intellectually and spiritually by Norman.

From Hawaii, Nick and Kate travel to Mysore, India to experience Ashtanga Yoga at the Yoga Shala of Shri Pattabhi Jois. Nick is physically challenged by this practice but he finds little spiritual connection. "Practice Practice Practice" says Guru Jois when asked about how to find this path to enlightenment. Nick finds himself out of place at the Yoga Shala - though later he admitted that he liked the Ashtanga style of yoga.

From Mysore Nick and Kate travel to Pune, India to meet the grandmaster of yoga, Shri BKS Iyengar at his institute, RIMYI. He gets an audience with Guruji and I think this is probably the time where some of the confusion in Nick's mind is resolved. Guruji tells him he didn't even think of the spiritual aspects of yoga till 1960, nearly 30 years after he started doing yoga. It was all physical for him prior to that. That hit a chord with Nick and he describes Guruji as "cool". There several scenes from the insitute with Nick on the ropes in Prashant Iyengar's class and the interview in the library.

This was a touching moment for me, as it was reminicent of my own experience in Pune and bringing back memories of own experience at RIMYI. I saw Nick practicing next to Abhay, one of the teachers I took classes from in one scene. A most poignant moment was when Nick slowly and cautiously glided his legs up into a balanced Sirsana. Three months prior Nick struggled with keeping his legs up; he crashed down while being instructed by Dharma Mitra.

This was a physical transformation that Nick experienced. I am uncertain if he realized that as he was still questioning and trying to find the pathway to enlightenment. All through the movie Nick was experiencing a transformation that he continued to challenge and question and butt heads with Kate. Nick mentioned in the Q and A later that the Iyengar style definitly connected with him, especially in his mountain climbing experience.

There are many such poignant moments. There was one towards the end of his time in Mysore when Kate questions him about his experience in Mysore. Nick was missing his family by then and had missed thanksgiving with them. He gets emotional and tears rolled down his cheeks as he remarked that the healing atmosphere of Mysore somehow reminded him of his mother and the yoga experience in Mysore connected him back to his mom.

My tears rolled down at the same time, it was too close to heart, as I am many times reminded of my mother and family when I practice yoga, especially in India. I think many of us have experienced some strong connection back to our family and home during that time. I think that was a transformational point for Nick.

The journey then moves to Brindavan in North India, where Nick experiences Bhakti Yoga, the most devotional aspect of yoga. Nick has a guide "Shyamdas" an American he met at Jivamukti, who has lived in India for 30 years and can speak Hindi and Sanskirt. Shyamdas connects Nick with many Sadhus and Yogis, who are much more absorbed in the spiritual aspects of yoga rather than physical. The most inspiring and telling experience was with Guru Sharan Anand. Nick asks about the path and practice to enlightenment; to which he responds "Its inside you, you are the mostest important person under the sun, happiness is within you, whether you believe in god or not, practice yoga or not".

Guru Sharan's simple but powerful discourse and conversation with Nick summed up this intense and challenging but most inspiring adventure of Nick and Kate. Towards the end, there is a quiet scene with Nick, Shyamdas and Kate on a boat on the river Yamuna. Nick is reflective and doesn't know what to say, when Kate asks him what he was thinking. Shyamdas remarks "sometimes you don't need to share or say anything to preserve the moment".

The journey to India ends when Nick leaves home for New York at 190 days from the day he started. He missed his family and it was time to go. The music all through the movie by composer Krishna Venkatesh was uplifting and inspiring.

Nick's life journey had only begun. He came back to New York confused and challenged. He decides to move to Boulder, Colorado, where he starts a new life as a writer and documentary film maker for rock climbing. He admits he is no longer practicing yoga regularly, though occassionally he will gear up and attend classes when his back his hurting and feel better and then the pressures of life take over. Nick feels there was some tranformation and enlightenment. His mother visits him regularly in Boulder.

This movie is a must watch for anyone and everyone whether they do yoga or not. There are some very special and inspiring moments that have been captured from these amazing spiritual gurus. I was very engaged by the movie, as there were many moments during the film where I personally could relate and connect with both Nick and Kate, including the skeptisicm, along with the burning desire to transformation. His connection to his mother in Mysore hit home with me in a very deep way.

His conversations with Guru Sharan were incredible and simply inspiring. There are lots of funny moments and many where you reflect on yourself and reflect and reminice your own experiences in life. This truly is a beautiful creation and believe it or not there is 485 hours of footage that has not been shown. It took 4 years for this project to be completed. Nick and Kate started filming in 2004.

There are so many pathways to experience yoga, sprituality and enlightenment and it all starts from within, from you, as you take a journey from the outside to inside to discover yourself and who you truly are. Enlighten Up! tells a story about this so personal and profound experience. So please go watch it and if its not yet scheduled to come to your city, lobby for it.

Thanks again to Kate and Nick for letting me interview them. The movie will play at MFA through Sunday and then play at Kendall Square through September. Kate tells me there are definite plans to take the movie to many other major cities including Portland. We hope to see you there. Please visit the Enlighten Up movie website for more information.


The Yogi

Video: Upclose and Personal with Kate Churchill and Nick Rosen

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Enlighten Up! Trailer

Out Takes from The Movie

Monday, September 8, 2008

Yoga is going from the outer to the inner deep within

Tonight was my first class for the fall term at Sunset Yoga Center. Advanced class with Nina. I went in apprehensive about how the one month in Pune would have changed Nina's teaching - I was expecting some strenous poses. I have been out of practice and tight.

We started the class with Nina describing some of her experiences in Pune and a few questions. What was one thing you brought back I asked - "Better Back Bends"... She was glad to be back home. Her experience in India was not to different from what many have in their very first trip.

She decided to give us a "Geeta lite" class. It was a light version of what she experienced with Geetaji in her first class with her at RIMYI. A combination of basic standing poses, starting with Adho Mukha Svanasana, Trikonasana, VB 1, 2 and 3 and Uttanasana. Then we transitioned to Supta Badha Konasana, a lying down Urdhva Hastasana and then a Sirsasana. I went right up and balanced - I was thrilled. I had had no practice since I got back from India, but my Sirsana balancing lesson with Nuvana paid off. It didnt last too long, but I was happy with my Sirsasana. I got a lot of confidence. We then transitioned to Setu Bandha on a black. All along there were instructions to subtly adjust the poses to get the maximum effect of the pose. We ended with a chair Sarvangasana.

Nina talked about how in Pune the ending "a" is rarely pronounced after any of the asan(a) name such as Tudasana, so she was going to try to use that pronunciation. A fellow student commented its asana in sanskrit and asan in Hindi. Right I said to myself, and Tudsana is really Taarrhdasan (a heavy r and d sound)... you say Tudasana, I say Taarrhdasana - at the end of the day we all are trying to achieve the same goal, and in Nina's final words "from the outer to the inner".

Sunday, September 7, 2008

War Mongers - An idle mind is a devils workshop

I wonder sometimes about people who are constantly waging war and cannot seem to reconcile or maintain peace within themselves. Over the last many years I have developed some understanding of people who constantly wage war on others. Why do they do that and why can't they seem to stop? What is the root cause? This cycle of war doesn't seem to stop for many of them. The middle east seems to be in a constant flux of war. In India there are constant battles along religious or cultural lines, the nationalists, the extermists....

Ever wonder who these people really are? My theory is that people who wage war are one's that have deep insecurities in themselves. These insecurities maybe related to their own identity, their self esteem - it maybe something that is passed on to them from prior generation and most importantly I have found that these people having nothing else to do in life - their minds and lives are empty and full of nothingness. They are idle spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. All their attention then goes to battling others to prove their superiority. But the process they engage in is not to rise above others through good will and compassion. It is by waging meaningless battles to bring others down to their level. Had they been busy and had real meaningful and productive work on their hands, I wonder if they could even find the time to think, plan and execute such battles.

As a child I went to a catholic school. Now this may sound a bit corny, but we had a class in elementary school called "moral science". Irrespective of our religion we were taught by many examples and stories that taught instilled moral values of goodness, work and compassion. Many stories were from the Bible. We covered a lot of common sayings - One that comes to mind is "an idle mind is a devil's workshop". I think it is these idle minds that have the time and engergy to engage in meaningless wars, battles, violence and hatred. Rest of us are just too busy to have time to even focus on such matters..... My approach in dealing with such war mongers is to not deal with them at all. But this morning I received another merciless attack by a war monger, and I am wondering should I offer this idle mind some work in return? I invite thoughts from readers on this subject.


The Yogi

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Forward bends and chest openings - Poses for relieving stress and tension

Yesterday was one of those days where too many things just come at me at once at work. I have learned the hard way not to get too comfortable with peace and calmness in my life - the evil spirits of stress have a remarkable way of coming in my face when I least expect them, no matter how yogic I claim I have become. With wonders of modern technology of instant communication we are more likely to get more stressed, more quickly - IN AN INSTANT :-) . We convince ourselves of changes and transformations within to handle stress with calmness.... but there is a reality check when it all blows up on your face in an instant.

It was my good fortune that this wave of stress and anxiety came right before my Friday yoga family session with Nuvana. I packed the kids into the car. We were so late. Yes! we will have ice cream after this, but I do need my yoga practice kids! You will have a swell time screaming and jumping all over me with your two friends, while I lie strapped in some supine pose trying to relax.... Off we drive down hill as Guruji's words "Change has to take place! Transformation has to take place" echo in my ears from the trailer of the movie EnlightenUp . Have a I really transformed? My old demons are back to haunt me. It had been such a peaceful Friday earlier.

We get to Nuvana's house.... I'm profusely apologizing for being late, as we have dovetailed into the dinner time of kids. No problem she says. I just need lots of restorative, my head is going to explode - I remark. Her kids had been eagerly awaiting our arrival, so in no time all four were in their best behavior. I need to bring ear plugs in the future. Somehow we calmed them down to do our OM invocations - but the quietness was immediately interrupted by slapping noises between two, which immediately transformed into massive giggling.

I was immediately instructed into a half Uttanasana on her window ledge. That didn't last for too long either. I was moved into a chest opening with Setu Bandh next. In included for a change a folded a blanket between my legs and the legs strapped around it and the edge of the sand bag on my forehead to push it towards my eyes. We couldn't find the eye pillows. That lasted for about 10 minutes.... all through this I'm un-silent. I am verbalizing my stress. "Evil spirits" exclained Nuvana. They come from your past lives her grandmother told her. You need to get a puja done. I will do anything to get rid of these stress demons I reply. In that moment I am ready to do anything , I believe in everything that could get rid of these demons from my life.

I think you need to try some forward bends, she remarked and I moved to a sitting position of Upavishtakonasana with my arms and head on the Halasana bench that was padded with blankets and two additional blanks one each side for my arms. I am still rambling... between the work problems and my experience of reading the book "First there is a mountain". I need to be quiet, but for some reason, I can't seem to be quite there today. We talked about our personal humorous experiences in Pune.

One topic was of how students are addressed, especially the foreigners, as many I think are challenged by the culture and environment. The teachers' at RIMYI frequently refer to students as "You people". The writer Elizatbeth Kadestky had made her own sarcastic interpretation in the book of the term "You people". I won't quote the words, but I couldn't stop laughing as I read it. We determined that if you don't know hindi, it would be hard to understand that "You people" meant no disrespect. The teachers in Pune think in Hindi or Marathi, or their native tongue and translate to English. "Aap log" is how folks are addressed in Hindi in group settings, which is a very respectful way of saying "You all". "You people" sounds so terse and derogatory. Somewhere in the discussion of Elizabeth Kadestky's book and experiences in Pune, the stress started to dissipate. My mind was distracted to another place, away from the demons.

I wasn't able to get the forward bend I needed with Upavishtakonasana. "Some people can get better bends with Baddha Konasana", Nuvana says. So we switch over to that pose and eventually to Janusirsana poses. All through this there was the screaming of the kids in the background. We decided to empower my oldest to oversee the younger, supervise them - a skill she is learning in school as her class welcome the newcomers (first graders) with whom they as second graders will be partnering with and guiding them through their first year in lower elementary. She too has been "really stressed" in all the preparation work that is required for welcoming these newcomers next week... Ahhh! all this "work", we are being programmed to be stressed at such a young age. That class needs to restart its yoga with me.

I must have been in these variations of sitting forward bends for an hour. The conversations about Pune took my mind completely away from my demons and by the time I was done, the head was no longer exploding and a sense of calmness had returned. We were invited to stay back for dinner. I volunteered to get some "Chole Bhature" from the Indian restaurant we had planned to visit after. The phone buzzed.... the stress never seems to leave me alone, but I handled it fine.

It was a stress free evening from there on, though I know the demons were still lingering around and will for some time, till the next wave of peace and calmness in my life. I recall something I wrote in a earlier post and wish to add the following : "Life is meant to be full of suffering and then we die"..... This elusive happiness we seek is just an illusion, a hope....we should not give up hope, but at the same time, balance hope with action, by going through life the best we can and then change might happen and transformation might happen. There is nothing but a sine wave in the cycle of life.


The Yogi

Thursday, September 4, 2008

One journey ends to start a new one....

Iyengar Yoga legend Mary Dunn passed away peacefully in her sleep amongst her family today, the day after Ganesh Chatruthi. May her soul carry the peace she was in. Following is the last post on her blog....

Dear Friends,

It is with great sadness that I am writing to let you know that our beloved Mary has left her body to continue on her journey. She died peacefully in her sleep on September 4th at home with her two daughters, Louise and Elizabeth in Westchester, New York. There will be a memorial service, and we will let you know when those specifics have been determined.In addition, we are planning a celebration of the life of Mary Dunn for early 2009 at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York. We will keep you informed as those plans progress.At Mary's request, in lieu of flowers donations to support IYAGNY and its continuing mission of teaching Iyengar yoga may be sent to:

150 West 22nd Street 11 Floor
New York, New York 10011

First there is a mountain

My cold and sore throat got worse and I finally had to see my doctor yesterday. Antibiotics! Yesterday was extremely painful. I needed to be at work and by the end of the day my whole body was aching and I had extreme discomfort on my sitting bones and sacrum. I tried to stay away from Tylenol all day to see if I could just withstand the body ache. At the end of the day I hit the gym sauna and steam room to relax. I tried some hot - anatasana. All I got were uncontrollable burbs! I tried some hot soup at a vege only fusion Asian place. No relief! It was time for Tylenol (1000 mgs) and an early night. I noticed a book at my door step when I got home... "First there is a mountain" by Elizabeth Kadetsky, a former Iyengar student and a journalist. I couldn't keep it down.... I read it from start to finish...more to come...


The Yogi

Monday, September 1, 2008

Being one with Nature - Mary Dunn's incredible strength

"My outer world is shrinking as my strength goes down. But as I look into my window sills laden with flowers and beyond into nature’s sculpture of the barks of timeless oaks, I am again in an inner world that expands and satisfies. Nature from which we come and to which we return, holds out her arms. I am content with this beginning and resolution."