Friday, July 23, 2010

My Philosophy on... Philosophy

So there has been some talk recently "out there" in the blogosphere about philosophy and concepts, especially as presented in yoga classes by teachers.  (Specifically here and here (no. 2, religion) )

It's got me thinking, as I am both a philosophy major, and thus incredibly drawn to that which lies beyond asana, and a bikram teacher, who teaches a pretty secular yoga class that is heavy on asana, light on concepts.  Though I'm a Bikram teacher and practitioner, I'm also a practitioner of Shambhala Buddhism-inspired mindfulness and meditation.  So where do I fall in?

When it comes to yoga, I do not personally feel that teaching sanskrit concepts is an authentic representation of my being.  Were I to teach the aspects of spirituality that I find most powerful, and, frankly, helpful (utilitarian), I would teach learning to stay via the secular study of meditation.

I feel that the concepts that lie behind both asana and this style of Buddhist meditation are powerful.  Further study in these concepts has accompanied the deepening of my asana practice and my meditation study, it's true.  However, I agree with Bikram that hours upon hours of physical study (asana, pranayama and meditation) is the best way to advance.  The benefits that come of practice are the embodiment of everything the concepts strive to teach us.

For instance, yamas and niyamas which serve as a sort of ten commandments of yoga (thou shalt and thou shalt not), a batch of ethical guidelines... they are wonderful.  I subscribe to them fully.  However I don't think of them as a personal guidepost.  The fact of the matter is that my path of practice has led to the general (and ongoing) purification of mind and body.  It's just not possible to practice with regularity and maintain certain habits.  For me.  As I increase my mindfulness and awareness in my life I am naturally tending to gossip less, be more truthful, be more compassionate, harm less, commit more to that which I believe in, and become less attached to the physical things that surround me.  All in degrees, of course.  I have not mastered any of this.

Has that come because I think about and talk about the yamas and niyamas?  No.  It's come about because I practice, and I meditate, and I try to bring mindful awareness to my life (if only to realize that sometimes I'm completely not mindful).  I'm not going to get further into the eight limbs of yoga nor the different meditation practices and concepts...  I think one example suffices.

So this brings me to explore the case of what it would be like if I did have a platform at the beginning of class to talk about concepts, similar to an Anusara yoga class (which is another style of yoga which I love.)  You would most likely find me talking about ways in which to handle that which comes up in the specific practice of asana and even more strongly in the in depth study of meditation.  Self-acceptance and honoring of the body we are in right now would be my refrain - because learning to be nice to myself has opened up my ability to bear witness to the world around me from the point of view of the present moment.  The only way I could stand the power of the present moment is to learn some sort of inner kindness.

You probably wouldn't find me talking about a sanskrit word, what it means, and how it applies...  at least not at first.  I have recently purchased a book called Nourishing the Teacher (which is co-written by a local teacher here in Vermont, Anjali Budreski of Yoga Mountain Center, Montpelier VT).  It's like the bible of Anusara-inspired lesson plans which are based in yoga concepts applied in real life.  The book is quite amazing and I really like it.  Should I start teaching a more concept-based style of yoga later, I will certainly be learning from and working with this text.

So I guess this brings me to my point.  I feel I teach a philosophy-based yoga (whether in the studio or the workplace.)  But rather than the concepts driving the theory, I try to let the practice of practicing drive my teaching and communication.  How do you learn best?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tough class last night

Last night my studio head taught Bikram - and I rarely get to take class from her.

I think the class was about 95 minutes long (as opposed to 90) and it really pushed my limits.  The second set last side of triangle seemed to take an eternity.  And she introduced the pose as "we're going to do it Anna's way" so I knew I couldn't drop out of the pose.  I just couldn't.

I hung there for what seemed like an eternity!

I am pretty good about honoring my body and my practice and taking breaks when I need to.  I use the breath as a barometer and know when I am in my "uh-oh" zone with the breath.  However, I also have the strong urge to set a positive example in class of how to work the asanas.  This is my edge.

Sometimes that urge to set a positive example allows me to hang for just a second or two longer than I think I can without going into the uh-oh zone, where I'm breathing in and out hard, and without control (though always through the nose).

Pose specifics... I'm finally finding the setup for standing head to knee (yes I said the setup) to be a bit more comfortable.  It's always been a really hard thing for me to hold the foot - I think because of my bustiness, frankly.  Kicking out, I'm able to hold in the position for much longer, though not ever yet through the entire first set (60 seconds).  Elbows down?  Iffy... haven't touched the forehead to the knee for some time.  I'm more interested in firming up the strength in the setup than that final part.

Standing Bow - I'm moving more slowly and falling out less.  But still falling out a lot more than I'd like.  (Hello expectations!)  I am working hard on the standing leg strength.  Also, as I start to come down, I'm thinking about rotating the shoulders around the axis of the upper spine.  It's the COOLEST feeling that I discovered a few weeks ago.  Every once in a while I get to my max and am able to hold it and work it.  My flexibility is miles ahead of my strength in this pose so my goal is to move more slowly to allow myself to hold it longer rather than maxing out and falling out over and over and over.

Toe stand - I fall out every single time.  I have short arms and can't touch the fingers to the floor when I walk the hands around.  I'm so wanting to balance here!  Sometimes I have a glimpse of it.

Cobra - My cobra really feels good and strong.  I try to not come out early even when I go up nice and high.  Sometimes it feels like FOREVER.

Locust both legs up I'm truly getting the sensation of bringing the weight forward and pushing the chest down. This is getting me more height than ever, though it's not anything impressive.

Really working the stretch in rabbit...

that's where I'm working most right now!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Triangle - I've come to love it!

Image compliments of
Yesterday morning it was a lovely Sunday morning Bikram class.  There were surprisingly few students at the studio.  It's usually one of the most crowded classes of the week.  I walked in and there was a spot front and center for me, so I took it.  I haven't been practicing quite as regularly as I should, so I knew that to work hard and hit my maxes I'd be taxing my system.  I made a note to watch the breath very carefully and work on lengthening the exhales, to move slowly, and with intent.  That always serves me well.

Lynn Whitlow came to Vermont in June and I learned a lot from her about how to teach triangle.  From the setup (warrior II) there is a nice way to go into the pose that seems to work well for students.  Let me just say that getting students into warrior II with a nice wide step and the bent leg thigh parallel to the ground is another thing altogether!  From a well-aligned warrior II, if you just move the arms, but stay upright, the upper body stays lifted.

From there, you reach the bottom hand down toward the toes and the upper hand up toward the ceiling.  The amazing thing is that when you raise your eyes up to the ceiling and turn chin to shoulder - THE SHOULDER IS RIGHT THERE WAITING FOR YOU!  The benefit for students to practicing this way is that they don't experience the upper body tipping over and dragging the body frame down.  Instead you enjoy a lifted upper body from the beginning.

It's so amazing, and I've been teaching it this way since I saw Lynn.  Yesterday in class, as a student, after the first set my teacher asked if I'd demonstrate.  I've come a long way with this pose.  It really used to be my nemesis and getting down into warrior II was something I thought I couldn't do.  Even at training, on the carpet, I could hardly hold both sides both sets more than a few times.

Now I demonstrate triangle.  Better yet - I LOVE IT!!!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Moving slowly in the heat

Image compliments of - get it?  A snail?  Moving slowly?  :)
What is moving with grace for me these days?  It's been a period of calm, quiet introspection.  I've been practicing but not pushing or straining.  I've made it into the pool a few times as well.  I'm headed to teach my first class tonight in 1.5 weeks.

There come times when the best thing to do is to "not do."  To move at a slow pace.  To do the bare minimum and be really glad to have done so.  I'm going through a period like that, of calm and quiet, of light practice and effort, of minimal movement and lots of water.

It's hot, it's summer, it's time to enjoy!