Thursday, September 29, 2011

Practice Update

Crazy things are happening in my practice these days.  I don't know what it's due to, but something seems to have unlocked or something.  I had a little pain in my back a few weeks ago and since adjusted the way that I ride my bike.  Could that little shift be the cause of the crazy practice?

First thing, I'm able to find balance without touching the wall in pincha.  I only turn around to the wall, because if I fall, I don't want to knock someone else over...or crash on their head while they're in sivasana.  That would be unpleasant.  But otherwise, most days now, I'm able to get up without touching.

But the bigger crazier thing is my wheel.  Yesterday, I lifted my left hand with the intention of "helping" my teach help me to bind.  And then, my ankle was just there.  I grabbed my ankle, on my left side, without assistance.  It was wild.  When you practice for as many years as I have been, those surprise-yourself-moments become rarer and rarer.  So, I'm still a little giddy about it!  The right side still needs an assist.  But it's an exciting start.

Sunday, September 25, 2011


Do yourself a favor and start cooking with spices.  Sometimes, you'll screw up and make something inedible.  But most of the time, if you start out with moderation, you'll be educating your palate and enhancing your food options without adding a lot of fat, sodium, and sugar.

First, I would suggest taking a trip to an Indian or ethnic market.  Don't be shy.  Pick up packages and smell them.  Ask the people who work there what they use them for.  Write down the names of the unfamiliar and look it up when you go home. 

And then start trying things out. One of the lasting benefits that I've found to doing a kitchari cleanse is that it's helped me learn more about the characteristics of different spices.   The neutral canvas of the rice and mung beans are excellent for experimenting with spices.  That's how I learned that I love ginger...but I hate Garam Masala (at least in large quantities!). 

For example, this evening, I didn't want to heat up the apartment with the oven, and yet I didn't want plain boiled yams.  I took my yams and diced them and sauteed them in ghee, madras curry, a little chilli powder and a little ginger before simmering.  When they were cooked through, I added coconut milk and ended up with a divine (if a little Kapha agravating) side dish. 

What do you do when you add too much spice to something?  If you have coconut milk on hand, it can definitely add flavor and dilute the spiciness.  If you don't, plain yogurt is also a great compliment to super spicy foods. 

Forbes article

Once again the conversation about "authentic" and "real" yoga rears its ugly head in the mainstream media in this Forbes article: Where is Yoga Headed These Days?

I wonder what the concern is. Are people so desperate for validation or so threatened by alternative practices that we need to continuously ruminate on this question?  

One of the things that I have learned from my practice is to be concerned with what's going on on my mat.  That is the only thing that I have any control over, a small rubber rectangle of space, for about an hour and a half a day.  What people are doing on their rectangles is their concern. The reason they got on their rubber rectangles is their concern.

And yes, this is coming from an Ashtangi.  If you know the Ashtanga practice, you know that it is said to be a "classical" form of yoga.  Does that make it superior to other practices?  It does for me.  But maybe not for you, and that's ok. 

There are many paths to the same destination.  As for the practitioner who isn't interested or looking ahead to the destination, who is maybe just showing up for the workout, aren't they practicing what we've been preaching?  That it's not the destination that matters but the journey.

So let them work through their samskaras (even if they aren't aware that that's what they're doing) to blaring hip hop music while wearing $200 yoga outfits all in the name of a good workout. 

There is enough interest in the "classical" forms of yoga, as evidenced by the constant media scrutiny of the subject, that these off-shoot imaginative styles are hardly a threat. 

If it seems like I let this topic ruffle my feathers, it's true, I do.  Thanks to the wonderful studios where I've practiced (Back Bay Yoga, The Massage Center, and Shanti Yoga Shala), I've been exposed to all kinds of yoga.  And while I've chosen to practice Ashtanga almost exclusively, I have come in to contact with some of the most spiritually aware - if not enlightened - individuals who enjoy all forms of yoga.  It's often those people who are filling the studios in the evenings that support (yes financially, but also emotionally) the space for the morning "classical" practioner.  And then on occasion, the practitioner of the trendier forms of yoga, gets curious about what is going on at 6am in these studios.  They set their alarm, come to the studio, and practice the "classical" form, and then, they decide for themselves.

Excuse the rambling.  This is long hand for "Can't we all just get along?"

Saturday, September 24, 2011

10 Year Anniversary of Yoga

This month marks my 10-year anniversary of doing yoga.  What an amazing milestone!  I can hardly believe that it's been 10 years since I first stepped onto a yoga mat.  So, how did I get to this point?

I had just moved to France for a year-long appointment as the graduate assistant to Boston University's study abroad program in Grenoble.  That in itself was a superb experience but hardly the subject of this post. However, there were two really important aspects of that position that led me to start taking yoga.  First, it gave me some credibility in my field of study (French Language and Literature) which brought to me some translation jobs which paid pretty well.  Second, it gave me a lot of free time.  I was working 20 hours for the program and taking a class, but otherwise, my days were pretty open.

Up until that point in my life, I had always had this idea in the back of my head that I wanted to try yoga.  I don't really know why.  I didn't know anyone who practiced it regularly.  My only exposure to yoga was through the lady (Lilias Folan) on PBS who must have come on right before or after the children's programming.

Maybe it was the leotards, the trippy music, the setting, or Lilias's kind voice, but the idea of yoga stuck with me, even though until I was 25, I never tried it.

Living in another country and spending your days working, thinking, talking in another language does something to embolden you.  It gives you the opportunity to become someone more than your regular self.  So, with all my money and all my free time, I sought out a place that taught yoga in Grenoble. 

I don't remember exactly how I found the place where I ended up practicing.  It was on one of the major boulevards in Grenoble on the second floor of an apartment building.  You had to ring to get in.  I remember hoping that this would be a way for me to meet French people outside of my work and host family circles.  It didn't quite work out that way.  Everyone waiting in the cold damp European hallway was completely silent.   Initially, the teacher was cautious about working with me, excusing himself for not speaking any English.  But I reassured him that I could speak French. 

I don't know what "type" of yoga he taught or even if he would compartmentalize it.  There was definitely a sequence which we built upon every week, but it wasn't Ashtanga.  It was very gentle and slow moving.  The room was always dimly lit and comfortable. 

Instantly, this yoga made a big impact on me.  The breathing, the postures, the drishti, these were all things that teacher worked on.  They fascinated me and I wanted more.  I quickly changed my pass from once a week to twice a week and thus spent two evenings a week practicing yoga and a bit more in my room at my host family's.

And that was the beginning of a beautiful journey.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day visit to a new studio

Ok. Not that bad ;)  My regular shala was closed for Labor Day today.  I was a bit worried about how and where to practice.  In my living room on the thick carpet that my mat bunches up on with the air conditioner blasting was a possibility.  That didn't seem very pleasant. It was tempting to just take the day off.  And yet, I've been on a real roll this summer with not missing any classes and didn't want to lose momentum.  Then, in a serendipitous moment, I was in line at the Whole Foods waiting to use the restroom.  There was a conveniently placed cork board with "community announcements."  Way up in the right corner was a little postcard advertising Yoga Mala Shala.  I was curious about it and remembered to look it up when I got home.  Here, it turns out that there is a an authorized teacher holding Mysore classes right here in my neighborhood.  I considered contacting her to see if she would be open today.

Here's the bad lady part.  About two years ago, I was in a similar situation. The studio where I practiced would be closed or self-practice one day.  I knew the teacher at another studio.  He had actually subbed for my teacher on numerous occasions.  And the studio where he taught was two blocks from my house.  So, I thought, I'll drop in on R.  It will be nice to take a class with him.  When I got there he asked if I was still practicing with K.  I said yes and explained that her studio was closed that morning.  He said that I really shouldn't jump around from school to school but I could stay.  I didn't really consider dropping in to one class after 6 years "jumping around," but the point was well taken.  Then, at some point in my practice, his assistant, also someone I knew from the neighborhood, came to give me an adjustment.  R admonished her, "Don't adjust her.  She doesn't practice here." 

Now, I bring this up, not to bad mouth R.  He's a fantastic teacher and has every right to have rules in his shala.  I actually found the situation more comical than anything else.  However, this was in the back of my mind this weekend as I considered practicing at Yoga Mala Shala while Shanti Yoga was closed. 

First, I wrote to K, the neighborhood teacher to ask permission to drop in for one class and told her that I practice with G.  She welcomed me to come to the class and didn't seem to have an issue that it would be a one time or once in a great while thing. 

At first, I thought this would work out great.  Then, I got really paranoid.  K was going to let me drop in there.  But what if G had an issue with me studying with another teacher.  I wondered if I should keep it a secret, but that thought made me feel guilty.  So, I asked G's permission.  He had no issue with it and said that K was actually lovely person and a great teacher.

K's studio just opened in June.  It's space rented in a converted church on Mt. Vernon and 17th Streets in the Fairmount neighborhood, only a 5 minute bike ride for me.  The old space had a warm and cozy feel with some lit candles and K's little altar adorned with pictures of Guruji and flowers.  Two other students were practicing when I came in (a bit late!).  K warmly welcomed me.  She gave some wonderful adjustments, some which I hadn't experienced before.  After practice we had a lovely conversation about the developing Ashtanga yoga scene in Philadelphia.