Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Click here for a short article and pictures from B.K.S. Iyengar's final photo shoot. Amazing!

Click here to read a piece entitled Breathe Right: Ujjayi Pranayama which I recently contributed to the "Live a Grounded Life" blog hosted by Solid Roots Yoga.

Enjoy! And, as always, let's practice together soon and often.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015


Hip-opening has been the primary theme of the DK class in recent weeks. We took a kind of scenic tour into Padmasana by spending significant time in each of the postures immediately preceding Lotus pose in the text (Gomukhasana, Virasana, Bhekasana, etc.). While the work we have been doing is basic in nature (i.e. foundational and preliminarily necessary), it has not been easy or quick. What it has been, as far as I can tell from what I see and hear, is worthwhile and motivating.

Hip-opening postures have a way of being particularly provocative. So many yoga poses are focused specifically on either creating or utilizing hip flexibility. It is understandable that one would feel frustrated or intimidated if the range of motion in their hips was especially limited; it might seem as though a whole world of experience is inaccessible, off the map. Padmasana in particular is, for many yogis, the epitome of yogasana; the Lotus form is often viewed as the embodied definition of yoga. And it is common to have strong feelings of desire toward attaining it as well as strong feelings of insecurity or self-criticism when it is not achievable. Of course, no single yoga pose defines a practice or a practitioner. But a student, who is otherwise fully capable of reminding themselves of that when their steadiness waivers in a one-legged balance or when their back bend is a little more hexagonal than it is circular, is suddenly barreling toward an existential crisis when their legs resist the quintessential pretzel-y-ness of Lotus pose.

It is also a commonly held belief that all kinds of emotions and stresses (positive and negative, conscious and repressed) are bottled up and preserved in energetic states within our hips and pelvis. It’s like a rush hour traffic jam on the I-405 down there. Because of that, working with hip-opening postures often leads to big feelings, and not always ones that we welcome: frustration, fear, doubt, hesitation, impatience. Sometimes they result in an emotional release. Something which was jammed up or impinged suddenly breaks wide open and the force of the flow is unstoppable. You are suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to laugh out loud or cry or shout.

Those with sufficient hip mobility aren’t necessarily in the clear, however. There is often times an inverse relationship between mobility and stability wherein too much openness coincides with lack of strength. That tends to place the burden of stability on some other part of the body, and, in this case, that is typically the spine which stays overly tense and is easily fatigued. A person with ample range of motion in the hips likely faces a task as challenging as that of the too-tight person: toning the legs and hips in order to create appropriate boundaries against which the upper-body finds freedom. So the next time you’re enviously eying the person on the mat next to you whose Gumby-like legs appear to seamlessly fold and unfold, remember that it’s not that they have something you don’t have or are in some way better—that’s not a whole or accurate picture—rather their challenges are different than yours, and your strengths lay in different areas.

Yoga pose insecurities, emotive reactions which occur while on the mat, and the body’s way of compensating for tightness versus openness are each entire conversations in and of themselves, and I’ll resist elaborating on them any further here. For now, what I want to share is the set of poses which will be our focus in the upcoming weeks. They are still primarily hip-openers. However, whereas our recent work has seen a lot of attention on knee flexion, adduction and internal rotation of the legs, and spinal extension, now there will be more forward folding while one leg is straight and the other is maneuvered through a range of hip movements. We are being introduced to the first group of seated forward bends and twists. Of course, along the way, I’ll point out forms and functions, we will look at relationships and repetition of shape, and we’ll work through various stages of experience.

I am going to present the poses here in the order in which they appear in the Course 1 syllabus in the back of the book. That is certainly not the only way they can be sequenced and practiced. It is possible that any or all of them would need specific preparations and warm-ups beforehand. And, for any number of reasons, one or more of them may be inaccessible to you. I’m also including some of the poses from recent weeks as a reminder that this work is absolutely related, and should be a fluid continuation of where we have recently been. Moving forward toward new poses should be in addition to, not in replacement of, what has already taken place.

I recommend experimenting with the poses in between class times: try rearranging their order; try practicing all the lefts sides before the rights sides, and vice versa; try them raw without any warm up for your spine or legs; compare that to how it feels to add a few rounds of Sun Salutations, standing poses, or a series of reclining leg stretches and hip openers (like Supta Padangusthasana variations, Succirandhrasana, or Garuda’s twist) before the seated work; try them with lots of props and with no props. And feel free to add or remove anything that makes it an enjoyable experience for you. I might suggest closing with a Bridge pose or two, maybe Shoulderstand variations, and then a prop-supported Savasana. It’s your practice; make it work for you.

Virasana -- Hero (pay particular attention to the various foot positions)

Triangmukhaikapada Paschimottanasana -- Three Parts Facing West Forward fold

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana -- Half Bound Lotus Forward fold

Marichyasana I -- Marichi's Twist I

Bharadvajasana I -- Bharadvaja's Twist I

Bharadvajasana II -- Bharadvaja's Twist II

Baddha Konasana -- Bound Angle

Gomukhasana -- Cow-face

Padmasana -- Lotus

Supta Virasana -- Reclined Hero

Marichyasana III -- Marichi's Twist III

Ardha Matsyendrasana I -- Half Lord-of-the-Fishes Twist I

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


I know I am a little behind schedule. I didn’t get my thoughts written as quickly as I had hoped, so I’m wishing you a happy belated Memorial Day. I hope you were able to enjoy some of what it typically includes: the three or maybe even four day weekend, a celebration of the arrival of summer, perhaps some time outdoors with friends and family. I remember as a kid our school year always ended the week before Memorial Day, so the holiday weekend was our first big summer vacation event. It meant a Little League game in the morning (my younger brothers played), the neighborhood pool all afternoon, and then home for dinner which had been cooked on the backyard grill. And we repeated that schedule of events as many times as we could until August.

Interestingly, Memorial Day wasn’t given its currently recognized name and date on the calendar until after WWII. Before that, when it first began to gain popularity in the late nineteenth century, it was known as “Decoration Day,” because the day’s events included decorating the gravestones of war soldiers. It’s that part—the “decoration” part—that always rings in my ears.

To decorate means to embellish and adorn, to distinguish and honor. It shares the same Latin roots as the word “decent,” which is to make suitable and to be worthy. So, when we add that to the idea of acting in remembrance, a decoration becomes a dignified offering of mindfulness. It’s not just remembering something important; it’s doing so in a way that truly respects and preserves its goodness.

I think our yoga practices—and, by extension, each of us as individuals—deserve more decoration. Often times we treat yoga as a solution to a problem rather than an appreciation of the good. We notice, and then fixate on, something which we view as less than optimal about our body or our being. We feel weak and want to build strength, we feel stiff and want to loosen up, we feel sluggish and crave more energy, and so on. And it is true that we can receive an array of gifts and gains from a consistent practice. But what should be remembered is that we are not problems in need of being fixed, rather we are human beings deserving of recognition and affirmation. Yoga is a way to decorate your Self. It is a way to adorn who you are and what you have. And it’s a way to truly respect the goodness you always have been and always will be.

Really it is not until you can embrace and decorate yourself exactly the way you are that the gifts of practice become accessible to you. One of yoga’s first big lessons is developing self-awareness. You must be able to recognize yourself in order to know who you are and what you have right now. And then that recognition needs to be bolstered with acceptance and contentment; what we call “Santosha” in Sanskrit.

Santosha is one of Patanjali’s five internal disciplines or vows (along with integrity, austerity, self-guided study, and dedication), and, while it isn’t easy to cultivate, it is worth the effort. The “Yoga Sutra” says that contentment is a key to happiness. That is because it includes feelings of gratitude, plentifulness, security, and satisfaction. The alternative is to constantly swim up the stream of “more and better and different” which is exhausting and confusing. Therefore contentment is also a source of stress-relief and ego-reduction. It is sometimes misunderstood as naiveté or blind optimism, but it is actually more of a conscientious yielding. It isn’t ignoring or condoning bad behavior or poor choices, rather it is understanding the difference between what needs to be addressed and what is good enough just the way it is. Santosha is trust in your ability to discern between vice and virtue as well as your capacity to act accordingly. It is the ability to show yourself appreciation for your strengths and compassion for your weaknesses.

When you work in remembrance of your innate goodness; that is, with both self-awareness and self-satisfaction, you recognize your suitability and you respectfully adorn it. In that way, yoga is an act of decoration. It embellishes and augments the best parts of who you are. And that, by the way, includes the parts of you which are undergoing continued development.

(Image: Yoga Sutra II.32 and II.42 as translated by Chip Hartranft, 2003.)