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YOGANIDRA AND HELLBENT

Last night I had a dreammmm about external hip rotation and that I was in full yoga nidrasana. I have had several external hip rotation fantasy dreams. Then I wake up and think I can do it, but am WRONG.

I read Hellbent last week in about two days. I resisted when it was going around the studio when it came out because I already know Bikram is a fraud and the rape allegations. I already knew enough and knew that at one time I did drink that Kool Aid. I wanted to be a Bikram instructor, but when I did a one day workshop with him several years ago I got it. I got it was schtick and he is this bizarre clown. After reading what the training is like, I realize it is a gift sometimes to not receive what you intend to manifest. The author came to the same conclusion that I have always felt about Bikram.

He could have offered so much more.

Bikram yoga is definitely for the intensity freaks though and the author Benjamin Lorr, has seen it all and been through it all, competitions, the teacher training, the Esak Garcia Jedi Fight Club bootcamps. He knows the major players. I was shocked he went back a second time to the backbend camp. I follow the Jedi Fight Club on Facebook. It looks like a fun group:

jedi

Yoga competitions have been a big deal in India for a long time. People who are non Bikram people say it is very “nonyogic”. I personally don’t have a problem with it. Hey, if I were younger, I might go to the bootcamp. I hope Esak allows them to drink water though. He came to our studio a while back and was pretty intense, but focused in a good way and delivered a great class.

The author goes to great length to study the effect of extreme heat on the body and obviously the effect of not enough water is just down right dangerous. There are not really any conclusive studies. It’s like everything else, probably very harmful to some and for others their bodies just get used to it. When I practiced a lot of Bikram the only time it was a problem when I was tired, ate too much or too little. When you engage regularly in anything intense you do make changes. You have to be of very eastern European background to be able to practice Bikram six days a week and drink copious amounts of alcohol. Either the drinking goes or the yoga. Ashtanga is like that too though. Serious six day a week early morning Mysore people don’t stay up all night or eat heavy food. It just doesn’t work.

So if you can adapt to the extreme heat, and some people just can’t, and you make major lifestyle changes, less alcohol and healthier food, you are going to have healing and great testimonials. Benjamin includes a lot of transformation stories and they are good ones. I teach in a Hot studio and we hear them on a DAILY basis. That the yoga changes something in people’s lives for the best. Bikram has always made these great claims and let’s just say it does not cure everything. That is the dogma of the practice I never entertained. It doesn’t cure cancer etc or whatever blather the Bikram trained teachers talk on and on about. Snake oil.

Benjamin’s section on the teacher training was hilarious. He recounts a class early in the training where he, and other’s practically die. I would never last a day in that training. No one is locking me in the room and I would not be afraid of the Bikram goons walking around making you stay awake watching movies at 3:00 am. It really sounds like they spend 11 weeks doing nothing but memorizing dialogue, taking two classes a day, and listening to Bikram spew a lot of his garbage. I have heard a lot of the nonsense from his teachers and early on learned to turn off what they were saying and just enjoy the practice.

My favorite part of the book was the section on Tony Sanchez and how he cut off the Bikram umbilical cord. Bikram wanted him to end his engagement. Um, good Tony that you cut your ties. Tony is the best hope for this style of yoga. He doesn’t insist that yoga has to be practiced in extreme heat, he has studied the lineage, is humble, ACTUALLY PRACTICES YOGA, and is everything Bikram isn’t. In other words, he has integrity, study, and practice over dogma.

I feel for the people and students he let down. The same thing happened to John Friend and will happen again in the yoga world. Everyone wants to belong. Everyone wants to be close to their idol. It is always hard when your idol falls and you realize you are – COMPLICIT. People experience guilt. That anyone would refer to Bikram as a guru though, is just sad and pathetic. A system led by a narcissist begets more narcissism. That is just a fact, whether it is yoga, politics, or any other organized group. It is okay to pick the wrong teacher. You can walk away. You can be wrong and not find out till later. It is just human. It is human to remain in denial too. The system invites it. Any system.

“In standing asanas, never ever let the inner arch of your feet collapse. This will weaken the inner menisci. Again there is a correlation between collapsed arches and/or knocked knees and knee problems. Knocked knees are contributed to by fallen inner arches of the feet but also by tight adductors and weak abductors.
In all standing postures such as Trikonasana, micro-bend (2 degrees) the front leg and make a swiping movement with your front foot towards the back foot. Never ever push out through the knee down to the floor in an attempt to hyperextend the leg. This would weaken and stretch your cruciate ligaments. The vast majority of knee injuries shows an involvement of ligamentous laxity of the cruciates prior to the actual meniscus tear.
In standing postures be precise in placement of the feet, i.e. turn out of 85 degrees means 85 degrees and not 84. This will make a big difference.” Gregor Maehle

“One of the most foundational standing posters for external hip rotation, you build strength and flexibility. Engage the deep six hip rotator muscles to draw the head of femur deeper into its socket and roll back and down to facilitate the external gliding motion in the ball socket of the hip joint.: – Kino Macgregor

This topic was a request. Thank you to the requestor for inquiring.

As a teacher and practitioner who is interested in classic form in teaching and practice, I get asked WHY a lot. Why do I teach a certain pose (Trikonasana is todays example) when so and so teaches it a different way. When I teach or practice yoga, I have categorized asanas as follows:

Form – The form is somewhat of an ideal of the pose.
Modification – The form is changed due to contraindication.
Variation – The Heinz model, 57 variations, to make life interesting.

Each pose does have an ideal form. If that form is not appropriate for a particular student then you modify and you understand WHY you are modifying. Variations are forms of the pose that get ‘made up’ as we trudge through MPY and many of these forms have become acceptable and many students and teachers as the correct form of the pose. For example, I get questioned a lot on bringing the hand to the floor or hand to foot in certain standing poses. I have students tell me that other teachers tell them NEVER to do that, but without giving them a reason. Although I don’t like to think of myself as a curmudgeon, I do feel they owe at lease that and my way is not necessarily the right way. In certain schools of yoga you do a pose one way and in other’s it is incremental. I don’t define my way of practice/teaching as stylistic anyways. I don’t need to label it. If you know what you are teaching/practicing and are modifying of giving a variation, know and understand and relate the benefit/reason/purpose, and the statement “that is how I like it” is NOT good enough. If you practice it a way to support and injury/condition/contraindication, that doesn’t necessarily translate into how EVERYBODY should practice it.

Here is the classic form of Trikonasana:

tri3

This is Mr. Iyengar in Trikonasana. The following two pictures of Trikonasana are Iyengar variations.

TRI1

This first modification is to work through the lengthening of the spine. The next modification is to work the hips into a correct lateral flexion.

tri2

In “Light on Yoga” Mr. Iyengar always shows the optimal form of each pose with no modifications or props. His instructions are to simply turn the feet from facing the wide angle of the mat and bend to the right. He indicates the benefits are strong legs and flexible spine. I have yet been to an Iyengar class where they have us bring the hand to the floor. Yesterday we practiced with yet another modification and with different props. We used a chair against the wall and a wall strap to bring the top arm behind us to get the correct alignment and rotation in the shoulders. We kept the bottom arm on the chair, so the spine was somewhat high, yet this breakdown, like all of them, felt very deep and specific.

tri3

The next two pictures I would consider variations. They are prevalent on the web and the focus is more on the torso and upper body. I know teachers teacher releasing the arms over the head to work the ‘Core’, but the bandhas should be engaged in any form or modification. The binding is a variation and I am going to guess that the teacher is prepping for a standing ‘bird of paradise’ option later in class:

triangle4

triangle5

In the last example, the Ashtanga form is shown:
tri6

The hand grabs the big toe and you can see the stance is somewhat shorted. The shorter stance makes sense with a higher lift of the hand off the ground. The short stance with a palm to the floor would be appropriate for those with very open hamstrings and/or longer arms proportional to torso/legs.

What is important to remember is that this is standing foundation pose for all styles. Per Gregor and Kino, the focus is on several movements:

- External hip rotation (Maty Ezraty has an excellent method of teaching this along with the back leg movement)
– Lateral flexion
– External shoulder rotation

The primary focuses addressed by Gregor and Kino is the low body. This may be one of the first yoga poses where a newer student is practicing external hip rotation in preparation for deeper floor seated work. Culturally and lifestyle wise Westerners are flexion dominant. We are also weak in the feet. Learning the proper energetic work in the foot to support the hip movement allows the knee to stay safe. This is important. In David Keil’s new anatomy book he addresses the pyramid structure of the arches of the feet. Understanding the energy of the feet can really shift our perspective of leg and pelvic structure. We can work on these poses for years and never perfect it. (Tias Little also refines this in his teacher training in a way that PROFOUNDLY changed my own practice/teaching) The Core and Arm variations are secondary. As I said, there should always be teaching and continual bandha focus.

A simple pose is as complex as the willingness of the mind to continue to inquire and to pursue the light of deeper knowledge. If you think it is simple, you haven’t gone far enough.

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TRUE RADICAL YOGA

“I like to define Yoga as being universal and only applicable in the present moment: anything that takes you out of the present moment is not Yoga. As there is no past and no future (they don’t exist) the present moment is all there is, which is universal. The majority of the activities of the mind are not Yoga – the mind tends to look to the future and debates endlessly on that, or looks to the past and indulges in that. The fluctuations of the mind cease when one is in complete surrender to the present moment.

Thus any tradition or technique, which by definition and application are typically “located” in past and future – do this practice and you will become enlightened, more spiritual, healthier, loose weight, better looking etc – can ultimately lead to a non-Yogic state. If Yoga is the present moment, and in the moment there is nothing but awareness, then that is all you need. Awareness is all you are. This is one of the basic contradictions of Yoga practice – are you being present versus trying to improve? Are you being aware or are you practicing a technique in order to then be aware? Any technique can easily be an obstacle to loving awareness.

At some point a Yogi has to abandon tradition and technique for the purpose of true presence and enlightenment.” Matthew Sweeney

The full blog post can be found here:

http://www.yogatemple.com/musings11.html#!the-evolution-of-ashtanga-yoga-part-ii/cped

The blog world and instagram world and Facebook world is so full of advice, promotions, and opinions, it is always refreshing to have someone write on the true nature of yoga. While I enjoy reading and learning, I find more joy in the simplicity of practicing in the present daily. I was just saying this weekend that a lot of current practices create more distractions for us than we already have and this is an impediment to true yoga. And then low and behold I find:

DavidG

So nice to see teachers speaking truth rather than truisms.

I like to talking to yoga friends just about yoga and not what other people are doing or trying to adhere to some dogmatic philosophy. The philosophy is pure and the essence is in Patanjali etc. You don’t have to keep looking for the truth, it is right there.

Sigh……practice.

So refreshing to see this interview with Richard. He is light, heavy, wise, and humble. Rare in the yoga world these days. I hope I can check out more workshops with him 2015. My number one yoga teacher!

ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA

My shoulders are feeling very open today after working on this yesterday:

Iyengar adho mukha

That is, of course, Mr. Iyengar in AMS. Our focus was to get the head to the floor, something you will rarely see in most yoga classes. There were two in the class yesterday that could do it. The teacher and a very advanced student I had never seen before. She was advanced. Period. I know a lot of people struggle with those words as a label or judgement. Whatever. This woman was ADVANCED in her asana practice.

We worked on extending the back lines of the legs and arms and shoulders. If you google this pose and look at images you will see a lot that are a little backbendy as they are extending the spine with the shoulders. (A normal way to work in yoga) Isolating the extension into the thoracic spine and the shoulders is key so we warmed up with a backbend. (My favorite on the chair.)

Most students who start out a yoga practice look more like this:

regular joe adho mukha

Comparing the two photos you can see the student needs these two movements to make a shift in the pose to get to the lovely halfway point. The middle ground AMS:

adhno mukha regular

Is that Rodney Yee? I would consider this a pretty Intermediate expression of the pose. There is equal strength, prana, and balance in the upper and lower body and nice back lines. I don’t see this very often.

Looking back at the Iyengar pose and the two other ones, notice the trunk line. My approach to teaching and practice, is to open the trunk first, then the legs, then the shoulders for the final version. The final version takes a lot of strength to work to that level of flexibility. ADS on the wall is also really good for long holds that allow you to work on the shoulder in a way that is not totally weight bearing.

I had a teacher say that urdhva dhanurasana is just reverse ADS. Lots of people push themselves into UD the pose with tight shoulders. The Iyenger AMS would be a great way to prep for a deeper expression of Wheel.

After years of practice and MANY teachers, I went to a very experienced Iyengar teacher for the first time the other night, and at Tadasana she noticed IMMEDIATELY that my toes are not in line. My left toes are an inch in front of my right toes. And she was so nice about it. She even offered I probably don’t do that all the time.

For the rest of class I noticed I do. And since the class, I notice my feet don’t align in tadasana.

Like Theresa Murphy said last weekend, that is information. What does it say about, maybe my wonky, or again to reference Theresa, my guru knee. Or my tight hips. Or my lack of external rotation.

Working with a physical therapist is so funny. He has me strengthening my piriformis and glutes of the minor and medius in order to NOT allow my knee to torque. I had never thought about it. And the exercises he gave me HURT, because my IT band is SOOOOO tight. Still.

So much information. And that wall. I have to have that WALL:

IYENGAR WALL

I mean, who doesn’t want that wall. Janu sirsana and paschimottanasana. NOW my new favorite, utthita hasta padangusthasana. (Joan your standing foot is too far BACK.)

Something is helping though because I improved my range of motion in knee flexion and extension. Yes for me and my guru knee.

There is so much you can work on with guru knee or anything else. There is always something. Check your toes for once.

IYENGAR SEQUENCE

SOOOOO…I am still working through the daily sequence and am stuck on weeks 17 and 18, which is fine. In the next series of poses they start to add more seated hip work, but I am still working on mastering the longer holds for inversions. Iyengar suggests working up to five minutes on sirsana and sarvangasana and I am not there yet.

The sequences start to change quite a bit and the one I am on starts with sirsana. This is very odd if you have been practicing primary series or any type of vinyasa where it is normally at the end. And I don’t quite know why we get so freaked out about it. I went to a Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane workshop and they started out with inversions in the class. They are both Iyengar/Jois trained, but again, I had never run into that. I often put inversions early in my classes if I know the class is going to be tired at the end so that they actually get it in and don’t flake out at the end of class on their inversion practice. Most of my students don’t do that, but I do think they have more energy earlier in classes for the harder poses.

Last night at the Iyengar class I took, they actually started with handstand and then sirsana, before going through an Iyengar type ‘flow’ which is also incredibly different from what non Iyengar students experience. We worked on bhujapidasana after that and then got to do sarvanagasana on chairs:

ss_chair

That was a serious treat for me. I hadn’t done it that way but it is a good way to work towards longer holds. I could have stayed in it all night. Before that we had also done another favorite of mine on a chair:

backbend with chari

I went home and bought my own Iyengar chair after the first time we did that pose and have never looked back. Besides being the inversion king, Iyengar is also the backbend king:

backbend on wall

Not ready for that one yet! Looks like a good warm up pose for kapo.

In the home sequence I am working on he is starting to bring on the backbends with the first few, through dhanurasana, of the intermediate series and the next sequence adds on the janu sirsana and first two marychyasana poses.

The heart of Krishnamacharya is never far. He taught his students differently, but the stream of similarity is always there. Just like most religions. They are more alike than different.

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