Monday, March 27, 2006

Ahimsa, part 2...

For reasons I'll articulate soon, but not tonight, about five weeks ago I generally stopped eating meat, though I still do fish.

I didn't mean to become a mostly-vegetarian. But when I asked myself, "What are the things in your life that you don't want to know?" one of the items on my list was, "How much suffering does my current manner of living cause?" When I looked into the answer to that question, I decided that I couldn't justify consuming factory-farmed animal products.

I've toyed with living vegetarian in the past, never continued the practice for more than a week or two. But I really didn't care much about it in those situations -- it was more of an experiment than anything else.

So this afternoon, my family and I (on a roadtrip through New Mexico) take a guided hike through Bandalier National Monument, and the guide provides lunch -- PB&J for some, turkey for the rest of us. I think to myself, "Ok -- even if you wouldn't have chosen turkey for yourself, the fact is, it's already raised, slaughtered and dead, so there's no point in not eating what's put in front of you."

I take a bite.

And to my surprise, I find what a friend described her experience to be after returning from India. I didn't like the turkey meat. I've eaten zillions of turkeys in my life -- or at least a me has done so previously. But something is different.

There was nothing specific wrong with the turkey. I surreptitiously peeled back the bread and extracted the meat. The reassembled sandwich -- lettuce and tomato on rye -- was just fine. Are my tastebuds re-orienting themselves? Probably.

I feel like an accidental vegetarian (and I'm finding that it's bloody hard to manage on a roadtrip through the American Southwest where everything is all-meat-all-the-time). I certainly didn't set out on this path on purpose. But I seem to be on it, nonetheless.

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Last class this afternoon, followed by dinner at an Indian restaurant afterwards.

Alanna brought a harmonium -- essentially a hand-pumped drone instrument, akin in sound to a cross between an organ and an accordion. Another class member brought drums. Another brought a tambourine. And to start the class, we chanted, kirtan-style ( For a reasonable approximation of the scene, imagine 30 or so folk seated in a circle, one playing a harmonium and chanting a phrase in Sanskrit, the rest of the people in the circle repeating the phrase-chant; the leader chants the same phrase to an extension of the melody, the rest repeating it. Rhythms vary from very slow, accelerating through a dozen repetitions, then slowing again over about the same course. Once it gets started, add in, jazz-style, improvisational rhythms in drums, tambourines, clapping. It can be quite hypnotic in style and, at least for me, the practice unlocks interesting energies, ranging from shivers and gooseflesh to elation and "highs."

Weird? Not at all, though I imagine that watching it can be as uninspiring (and perhaps as weird) as watching a group of Hare Krishnas on a street corner. I read somewhere that watching someone else practice yoga doesn't begin to give you even the barest glimpse of what yoga is about. I suspect the same is true of kirtan. Once that ended, we divided into pairs and taught our way through an entire C1 sequence. I teamed with Leigha, who was suffering from a bout of the flu. She called me through the sequence consistently and admirably, especially accounting for her illness. I then began to lead her through when she just ran out of energy. Amanda came over and allowed me to finish the series of poses with her as the student.

There is a kind of richness to the opportunity to practice yoga and yoga instruction with such people. My life outside of such practice is pretty nice and pretty normal. But it is entirely devoid of opportunities for such interaction with others. Though, as I've said to many others and to myself, "I already have a day job," I wonder whether I want to manage my life with people like these who give of themselves so generously. What an impoverished way of living, to do without interactions such as I have been blessed to have during the past eight weeks.

At dinner, we ate and chatted and remembered. Dave gave me an opportunity to lead a chant, something I've wanted to do since Manorama first introduced us to Sanskrit. But I chose a Hopi chant -- in remembrance of my sister, who found a part of her personality in Hopi traditions. So I led the group through a mantra of "shima," which, in Hopi, means "love."

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Twenty-Third Class

Saturday: today was a posture clinic with Jane. As a class, we worked through Sun A and Sun B in a round-robin teaching exercise, then divided into twos to teach through the rest of the routine. Greta and I worked together. She's very good at the instruction and has mastered the sequence. I haven't really succeeded in remembering the sequence of poses, so periodically, I asked Greta for help. Even tied into the contortions of the CPY C1 sequence, she prompted me through the sequence. Even so, I loved the instruction, the synchronous breathing with a student, adjusting, and seeing in the practice all the elements of yoga.

I already have a day job, but I suspect I'll find a deep hole in my life if I don't find some opportunity to teach what I've learned to others.

Tomorrow's the last class.

Twenty-second Class

This class was taught, essentially, by Trevor. With Dave, Trevor was one of the two founders of corepoweryoga as a business. Trevor led a discussion of the "business of yoga."

He began with a short history of CPY. He and Dave worked together at an IT consulting business in San Francisco. They cashed out and decided to do something different. They practiced yoga for a year and opened their first studio in January 2002. One student attended the first class. The business growth curve was very slow at the beginning, but they had capital to get them through the money losses at the beginning. That's a key to succeeding. Over time, the business grew and evolved to what it is today -- 10 studios in four states.

He reviewed market dynamics associated with yoga, based on a recent study (2004). About 7.5% of the US population practices yoga at present. 19.4% identify themselves as former practitioners, and 28.2% are interested, but have not tried it. The total spent on yoga (classes, videos, magazines, props, clothing, retreats, etc.): just under $3B/yr. Far and away the most important reason practitioners give for practicing at a particular studio: the quality of instruction. 71% of those who practice yoga do so at home -- not at a studio. The intial motivation for yoga -- desire for more stretching and flexibility, followed by desire to increase fitness, reduce stress, and to improve mental health.

From Trevor's perspective, the top three considerations from a business perspective: 1. the growth numbers show both significant potential and an increasing pace, 2. the number of people who practice at home on their own, and 3. the percentage of people who try and then leave the practice. Retention of customers is a highly important factor. To retain? Make it fun. Make it dynamic (hot yoga with its same 26-posture sequence bores people after a while -- power yoga with its constant changes to routine helps address this). Add music to the practice. Style counts. It takes a while to get the mix of factors right to begin retaining customers. And once past a particular threshold, retention rate goes way up.

Quality control: each studio has a manager. The manager is responsible for the quality of instruction. Manager takes classes with each of those who teach at the studio. Constant feedback.

Teaching: it is important to get experience teaching first before you decide whether you want to open a studio. The most difficult places to find teaching jobs? Yoga studios. The easiest? health clubs, apartment buildings, workplaces, hospitals. You've spent the money for the training. Get out and teach. Jump into it while the instruction is fresh in your minds. After teaching 30-50 classes, you'll have passed the threshold for comfort in teaching. Don't wait for the opportunity to happen -- go after it. Introduce yourself -- that's what you're selling. Offer to teach free classes. The going rate for yoga instruction is $20-60/class. Prepare a resume that describes your background, your philosophy, and perhaps your class outline.

CPY does not hire yoga teachers as employees -- teachers are independent contractors. Get insurance for yourself -- it's available through various sources, including Yoga Journal, for about $120/year. Also consider corporate form -- either LLC or S-corp. If you go this route, keep a bookkeeping system.0%

Studio elements: Lgst cost: payroll~50%; rent ~30%, then utilities. 60-70% of business comes from word-of-mouth. Then drive-by/walk-by -- so location counts for a great deal. With a studio launch, CPY uses a direct mail approach -- a glossy card send to 15K homes in the area, ranging 3-5 miles from the studio. Key demographic: hh income of $50-60K+, 30-45 yrs old.

Female/male ratio of most CPY classes: 75/25. Seasonality is very, very important -- summers entail very heavy decline -- 30% -- in attendance. So plan to lose money during the summers. Keep financial reserves needed to get through summers.

Read: Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell, and E-Myth Michael Gerber.

Build out costs for Grant St. studio: $60-75/sq.ft.


Yesterday’s practice:

I’m attentive to Shiva these days, as I reach an ending – of teacher training, at a minimum. Shiva of the one-point focus. Shiva of the ending of mind-chatter. Shiva of de-structures. Shiva, the fire that burns away what has accumulated. Shiva, the letting go.

So yesterday, thinking of endings and focus, it occurred to me to extend my vipassana meditation practice to my yoga. In vipassana, I watch my mind’s genesis of thoughts, ideas, feelings, fears and the like – maintaining a perceptive distance between the thought and the observation of the thought. Sometimes, that meditation becomes an attention to the stillness from which mind-thoughts arise. So applying that to yoga asana, I started with sound. I shifted my attention from a hearing realm to focus on what is behind what I hear – the background, as it were. In hearing music and sound, sometimes I notice the silence underlying the sound, filling the spaces between the sounds. I began to practice that attention. I expanded the practice to what I was seeing, trying to see through or past was was before me to perceive what is behind the sights. It kind of worked. It worked best when I maintained my gaze constantly on a single point.

From there, I moved into the asana practice – working, exerting, twisting, extending, contracting. In one of the more difficult poses for me – revolved crescent lunge – (this is a tiny picture of it, but it’s the only one I can find on the web --, it occurred to me that there ought to be a way of going behind physicality, just as there was with vision and hearing. So, in moving into revolved crescent lunge, I “did” the same thing. What I found was that the focus on what was behind makes hard things easier – it revealed to me the portion of the struggle that happens only in my mind, freeing my body to deepen, maintain. Though in that meditation mode, I perceived my breathing to be a purely physical action, the walls between breathing and the background seem thinner than those between most physical action and what is behind physical action.

I need to try this with other experiences and sensations.

Perhaps that attention is the beginning of one point focus – the dharana Patanjali writes about.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Meditation on savasana -- corpse pose

Savasana: the pose that every beginning yoga student loves until its translated from Sanskrit to English, at which point, half the students get weirded out by the name.

Sequences of yoga poses can start and end in a variety of different poses. But in all the traditions I've experienced so far, the final pose is, invariably, savasana: lying flat on my back, legs extended, feet about 24" apart, heels in, toes out; weight in my buttocks, sacrum, mid-spine and shoulders; arms slightly out from the sides, shoulder blades in, palms up; head resting on the occipital region of the skull, eyes closed.

As BKS Iyengar wrote in Light on Yoga that savasana is among the hardest of poses to master. Despite all the times I've been reminded of that, it's never been clear to me exactly why that is so. Today I might have begun to figure it out.

Taking Alanna's instruction from the vinyasa sequencing class (see below), I decided to set a specific intention for this evening's practice: I dedicated my practice to Siva. Mind you, while I really like the figurines of dancing Siva, I don't tend to think of Siva as a dancing god of destruction who stands in counterpoint and equipose to Brahma, the creator, and Vishnu, the sustainer. I do, however, think of Siva as an embodiment of the Ending -- of an amalgam of letting go; of focus; of breathing out; of the close-lipped hum leading into silence at the end of OM; of concentration to a single point, ending all others. So, this evening, when I managed to think of anything other than tipping over, I tried to focus on a single point of internal concentration, letting go of everything else. As usual, I managed quite poorly to keep my focus.

The practice concluded, as usual, in savasana. In the past I've found that I tend to wiggle in savasana -- as soon as I get my body positioned on the mat, I begin to notice how much more positioning I need for the pose to feel exactly right. So while I start with the basic structure I've outlined above; I usually move to a second stage, where I'm doing micro-adjustments -- balancing the skin tension in my calves; shifting my glutes so the pressure on them is symmetrically balanced (yes, I do such things); extending one arm slightly to match the extension I feel in the other; curving or uncurving my neck, to get the angle of my skull exactly right. Often enough, I find that before I'm done wiggling, the teacher is gently cueing us to "come back into your bodies." And I've never allowed mine even to hold still.

So today, once I laid down in savasana, my mind reminded me of my dedication of the practice to Siva. And I thought briefly of the corpses we examined in the cadaver lab a couple of weeks ago. They never shifted, as far as I saw, even though their weight was probably not perfectly balanced between left and right. And thinking that, I laid aside my perfectionist wiggles, and I became a corpse. Each out-breath became the last breath of this body. My mind noted the slight irregularities in the pose as I performed it, was aware of the minor asymmetries of skin tension against the mat. And it accepted those details and let go anyway.


Yoga teachers remind us frequently that there is no such thing as a perfect pose. There is only a pose that leads to enlightenment, and one that does not.

OM Namah Shivaya.

What I shoulda said...

Yesterday afternoon, Dave had us set up in a class, mats laid out, students lined up. And he selected a teacher at random to get us going, swapping out teachers frequently throughout the practice. It’s a useful exercise, as it keeps us, as students, thinking “If I’m next, what do I say? which poses come next?, etc.” I got called on to teach danurasana -- Bow pose ( I stiffly coached the class through the pose; Dave swapped teachers again; and I went back to my mat. In the feedback session later, Amanda suggested that I bring out more of my sense of yoga, rather than sticking strictly to the set of cues.

That seems good advice, but thinking of what to say in a setting like that is hard. So, of course, I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Here’s what I should have said to the class that was, when I started, in belly-down savasana, heads turned to the right:

Raise your chin to the floor. Reach back with your hands and grasp your ankles. On an inhale, kick back into your hands and let the strength of your quads lift your torso. Breathe here. And as you breathe, feel the strength of the lower half of your body kicking back and lifting the torso, the strength of the upper half of your body drawing forward and lifting your legs. And feel the entire weight of your body balanced on the softest part of it. Danurasana challenges you to move into – not away from – the opposing forces in your life, feeling the tightness and exertion of those oppositions lifting you toward the sky; at the same time your soft belly grounded on the earth.

That’s what I should have said. Why is it that I always think of these things too late?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Twentieth and Twenty-first Classes

Saturday Afternoon: Posture Clinic with Jane

Abdominal series:


Start students on backs. Give them the option of putting their hands beneath their pelvises to supplement the lower back muscles. Cue them to bring their legs to 90 degrees, feet to the sky. Cue them to keep their pelvises neutral -- tipping neither backward nor forward. It's ok for them to soften their knees to remedy tight hamstrings. Then cue them to lower their legs to a 60 degree angle. 3x breathe. Lower to 30 degrees. 3x breathe. Then to two inches off the floor. 3x breathe.

Abdominal twists/bicycle sit ups: 30 seconds. Cue them to keep their knees bent and to do a couple of situps each way, then extend their legs. Cue lifting both shoulder blades off the mat, and bring right elbow to left knee, reverse legs, and bring left elbow to right knee. Then turn them loose for 30 seconds. Cue them to maintain a neutral pelvis and spine; to keep the throat soft, a long neck and open chest. Cue them to keep their elbows out (rather than clutched in around the neck).

Boat pose: If really new beginners, it can sometimes be easier to demo the pose than to coach them into it. Start them with knees bent so they can see the modifications as the norm. Let them advance into fuller expressions of the posture later. Do 3 sets for 5 counts (not breaths) each.

Transition from boat to half pigeon by bringing them to table-top (hands and knees), then to Downward facing dog. From there, lift R foot to the sky, sweep it through, bringing your Right knee to your Right wrist. Square your hips. Curl left toes under to draw hip open. Lengthen the spine. Palms to the floor on either side of your hips. Lift the breast bone. Notice -- is all the weight on one side of the pelvis? Equalize the weight. Flex your R foot to protect the knee. Doing so works the paraformus muscle -- the muscle that connects the ilium to the sacrum and runs past the sciatic nerve bundle. To bring students out of pose, cue them to walk their hands back to their hips and bring them to table-top, then to Downward facing dog. Then run them through Half Pigeon again, this time on the left side.

Also, keep in mind that you can and should use static postures like Half Pigeon as a time when you can make it less about physical movement and more about yoga. Turn them inside in similar poses, such as Runner's Lunge. Help them recover the breath, relax their faces, close their eyes. Remind them and let them be quiet.

Then transition to paschimottanasana by bring them to table-top or downward facing dog, then walk/jump through to sit down.

Paschimottanasana: hold for 5 breaths. Cue: Sit on mat with legs extended in front of you. Draw the flesh back and away from sit bones. Straighten legs. Chest broad and open. Grasp underside of thighs. Draw forward with a flat back. If no back problems, bend forward, reaching your calves, ankles or feet.

Then cue them to lie back. Draw knees up and give yourself a hug. Release onto your backs.

Dead Bug Pose: Cue to reach forward to get hands to the insides of your knees or arches. Lift feet to the sky; knees bent. Keep spine flat on the floor, tailbone moving toward the earth. Keep your shoulders on the floor. Use arm strength to lower hips.

Spinal twist: Cue: from lying flat, draw R knee up to chest. Hold knee with opposite (left) hand. Keeping shoulders flat on mat, draw knee across the body, extend your right arm out. Turn head and look right. Draw knee back up to chest; extend leg. Draw L knee up (repeat).


Sunday class: Teaching practice.

Ninteenth Class

Wednesday Evening

Dave encouraged us to attend and observe classes -- not just C1s, but any CPY classes. Those who had observed classes commented that it would be very easy to get caught up trying to fix things, as having observed C1 (beginner) classes, they saw a lot of things to fix. They noted that keeping the class going is important to making students feel successful, so we should pick carefully what we try to fix, and what we let go. Other notes from observers:

  • Kids practice very differently than adults: sometimes more flexible, sometimes much less
  • Everyone in the room seemed to be in a different position
  • You can pick up cues on which pose comes next in the sequence (if you forget) by keeping an eye on the students who already know where they're going next
  • The class shows you what to say
  • integrating all of the teacher functions is still impressive

Dave commented that we should always look at the class, that doing so will tell us what we need to say and teach. Alanna remarked that the Sunday afternoon adjusting clinic had gone very well.

A teacher training student asked about how to handle pregnant students in yoga classes. Alanna responded, together with class comments, making these points: When teaching a pregnant student, try to make sure that everything the student does helps the baby. No poses that rest on the belly. No heated rooms -- while the mother can shed heat by sweating, the baby is suspended in liquid and has no heat control methods available. Avoid instructing practices that increase tapas (internal heat), such as ujjayi breathing. Avoid instructing twisting poses. With an advanced pregnancy, avoid poses that put the student flat on her back. That position can be uncomfortable for pregnant students, and some have difficulty getting up from it. Some pregnant students have difficulty resting on their right sides. Guide them to rest on the left side. In advanced stages of pregnancy, avoid abdominal work. When the abdomen is already stretched by the pregnancy, further strain can rupture or herniate abdominal muscles. Inversions should be considered on a case-by-case basis. The student's point of balance will have changed significantly. That can cause falls. Consider modifications of these postures to accomodate the student's condition. Instead of resting on the belly, call child's pose. Instead of belly-down Locust pose, instruct a modified version on hands and knees.

Much of the specifics for pregnant students depends on the practitioner. If a student has practiced yoga for years, she may be able to do much of a core power practice up until delivery. However, sometimes doctors will tell patients for various reasons to take up yoga, so some pregnant students will be first-timers. When you have a pregnant student come to practice, take a few minutes to interview her about her practice, her condition, what she expects, and how you can assist her as a teacher. That information can guide how you guide her.

Instruct the student not to extend stretches or joint flexions beyond the point at which they practiced prior to pregnancy. Pregnancy usually involves the body's production and release of a hormone (relaxin) that makes ligaments more flexible to facilitate birth. However, stretching ligaments already subject to the effects of relaxin can cause damage and should be discouraged.

Throughout all of this, keep in mind that pregnant women are not fragile. They're doing the toughest work in the world. Yoga helps.

Alanna then lectured on designing sequences of postures for free-form yoga practices beyond C1 series:

Vinyasa is the term for yoga practices that flow from one pose to the next, riding on the breath practice. Vinyasa means "to place in a special way." What gets "placed"? The asanas, the breath, the intentions. Is there a vinyasa of getting into the car? There is if you bring intention and consciousness to the effort. How often do you find yourself at home, and realize that you have no conscious memory of getting there? The medulla oblongata is the part of the brain that operates the parts of the body that work below the level of consciousness -- the endocrine system, the heart, and the breath. Practice with the mula banda (the pelvic floor muscle engagement) is designed to assist us in increasing our consciousness. Try placing with consciousness the moments of your life. Place them with love. If you aren't engaging with love, what are you doing here?

Vinyasa grana is the process and succession of changes from moment to moment with the flow of intention. It can be applied to any format -- your life, your schooling, etc. You might go to college, choose 12 different majors, pick "liberal arts," and now you're a yoga teacher. Even so, wouldn't you be a completely different person without that background? So then you graduate. But those moments make you what you are today. Why did you lose someone special in your life? What experience in your life is irrelevant to this moment? None is. Nothing happens by chance. Nothing depends on luck. Sometimes within the process, it's difficult to see the purpose for a particular event or experience, but eventually it becomes clearer. In yoga class, your intention drives the content of the class. You should know the intended outcome that the students will discover, whether it's hip openers, peacock pose, the lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu chant, relaxation, or concentration. You can have and teach usefully with almost any intention. While the students are groaning or grunting in wheel, they may miss it, but by the end of the class, they should get it.

Think of a yoga class as a paragraph -- there will be several points that lead to one statement. The words in the paragraph are poses. Connect them with intention. Pose sequences should refer to the student's existing understanding, and then build on and extend it, leading to something new and different. With even the newest of beginners, you can start them with "stand up straight." Then you can provide them with cues to get them into samasthitih, guiding their breath and intention.

General rules for sequencing poses:

Always start with the breath: inhale and exhale through the nose. Doing so warms the body, retains energy inside the body, calms the mind, and engages fully the lung capacity.

Cue inhales for posture changes that lift or expand. Cue exhales for those that lower or contract. All movement should be linked either to an inhale or an exhale. While students hold a pose, they are usually safe. Injuries occur more frequently during transitions from one pose to the next. And it is during transitions that students often stop breathing. That increases the chance of injury.

The quality of breath reflects the quality of mind. Keep your verbal cues concise. Avoid your own unnecessary motion between poses.

Sequencing poses : Begin all practices with an intention -- a kind of dedication or prayer. It takes students out of their autopilot mode, enabling them to set aside other things. CPY does not use OMs or chants for C1 (beginner) classes. They want to avoid any kind of intimidating practice for beginning classes -- just showing up in a yoga studio is hard enough for some students. Use group breathing to connect the class, not OMs. Bless them for showing up at all. Don't creep them out. Start them with what they know already, and start with them where they are today. If what they're familiar with is working out in a gym, start there. Even so, do start them with an intention. People will work harder if they are doing their practice for someone else, rather than for themselves. Also, starting with a dedication helps them deal with the unpleasant parts of practice that come up -- whether anger at the teacher, frustration, disappointment. If the student has nowhere to put what comes up, the practice can be frightening and harmful. Practicing in a heated room expands everything -- including feelings of anger, sadness, self-defeat, and self-loathing. Dedication helps them work through those. And working harder leads to transformation.

Your sequence should warm up your students. Practicing after warming up makes practice more safe. Do Sun salutations for 5-10 minutes. It provides a framework for opening and closing. By the way, there are other kinds of salutations, as well -- earth, moon, Shiva, etc. At CPY, all sequences start in Downward facing Dog. In Ashtanga practice, all begin and end in Samasthitih.

Hold postures for 5-20 breaths. If you want to encourage grounding, use longer holding periods. If you want to encourage more energy, use shorter holding periods.

Don't neglect twisting postures. They can be included almost anywhere in the practice sequence, as they are spinally-neutral.

Do not follow back-bends with forward bends or forward bends with back bends.

Generally avoid verbally formulating cues with negatives -- "Don't X; No Y." The exception is in Bridge Pose, you should be sure to instruct students not to turn their necks to either side, as doing so can easily result in injury.

When starting a backbend series, start small. Cue the less difficult cobra, bow, bridge, supta virasana, then move to the more difficult wheel or camel poses. If you were to throw in a forward bend in the middle of such a sequence, you'd reverse the building backward extension of the spine, and then you'd have to re-develop that progression before moving into the deeper bends. The same principle is true of forward bending sequences.

When creating a pose sequence for class, choose only one emphasis -- one topic sentence for the paragraph. Within the "sentences" of the sequence, be aware of rising and falling energy levels and exertion. Don't do a sequence of poses on one side that is so long that you forget the sequence to do the same on the left side.

Keep in mind the importance of counterposes. Consider paschimotanasana to counter back bends. Similarly, consider Upward Plank to neutralize and counter forward bends.

Don't skimp on savasana. People seldom take the time they need to chill. You can help by preparing the class for savasana. Instruct them that after an exerting practice, the nervous system needs time to internalize the experience. Savasana is corpse pose -- death is the ultimate letting go. If you take time in savasana, you'll prepare for the letting go of death. And you'll be ageless. Student's busyness is an avoidance technique. Talk to them about transformation. Type As don't want to stop and take time. You can help by playing uplifting music. Guide them through a relaxation meditation, using your own voice. Don't assume that students know how to relax. Before shifting into silent mode, ask yourself, "Are they ready to be left alone?" With beginners, give them a tool to help. Falling asleep is an avoidance technique, too. If you give the students a reason for why savasana is important, they'll understand a little more and may support the request.

It is important to get feedback from students. But getting feedback and following its guidance are two different things. Don't let students guide you back into their own comfort zones. They'll guide you to where they can avoid changing. Set your own boundaries. Be aware of other's egos, and serve their highest needs -- which may be very different than their egos' wants. Teach what you think is right.

In developing sequences, keep in mind that meditation is always a nice choice.

For inversions, consider shoulderstand and headstand. They align student's energy, and they can be done at any point, once the students are warmed up. Whenever, it's incredibly important to turn your students upside down. Headstand is a yogi's cure-all. No matter what the problem is, it can be helped by 5 minutes in headstand. There is a strong consensus among yoga teachers that inversions should be avoided during menstrual periods, when energies are suppose to move down and out. Going upside down reverses that energy flow. But keep in mind that all yoga postures are designed to turn energy upward, which is all counter to the menstrual energy flow. Instruct your students about the situation and let them choose for themselves.

We then divided into groups and practiced sequencing poses to lead from and to various target postures.

Brief summary of jivamukti practice during Seventeenth Class

Jivamukti session:

After the discussion of the chakras (described below in the summary of the class), Alanna led us through a jivamukti yoga practice. She started us in Child’s pose, and, while we were face down, placed a bandanna on each person’s mat, instructing us to blindfold ourselves. The rest of the practice was conducted without sight.

Alanna began by reminding us of the connectedness of all things: An instant after the Big Bang, all matter and all energy were packed together tightly in a single point – so tightly that the separation between bits of matter and energy that we’re accustomed to in our existence did not exist – each particle was connected. In recent years, we’ve discovered that two particles, once in direct contact, remain “entangled” even after they separate. Every particle of your being originated in the Big Bang and each particle remains entangled – connected – to the other elements of creation. Though you may not perceive it, each action that affects you affects also all others. Each action that affects others affects you. We can train our minds to listen – we can train our bodies to listen. As we do that, we’ll perceive a great deal more of the interconnectedness of all things than we may perceive at present. Start with the blindfold. Allow it to turn on your other sensibilities. And as you proceed through this practice, know that your extending of feelings of compassion and kindness toward someone will affect that person.

The class then started in Child’s Pose followed by Downward Dog. Both are resting postures, and we held both of them for several minutes. Alanna talked to us as we held the position, and she also used the time to touch each student – anointing the lower back with a mildly-scented cream or lotion. In doing so, she reinforced our attention to sensations, especially in the absence of sight. She also informed us, physically, that we could expect other touch and posture adjustments throughout the practice. In doing so, she reinforced the structure of relationship between a teacher who sees and each student who relies on the teacher’s vision.

As the practice progressed, Alanna continued throughout the class, adjusting poses, modifying stances, sometimes with the touch of a finger, sometimes meshing her body with the student’s to advance the posture. She led us through a series of poses, each stage of the series emphasized a particular chakra, starting at the root chakra, ascending through the belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, brow, and culminating at the crown.

We concluded each set of poses focused on a chakra concluded with a mantra related to the chakra. In working the heart chakra, Alanna instructed us that we would perform three sets of Wheel Pose. During the first, she asked us to hold in our awareness someone whom we love, letting those feelings hold us longer in the pose. During the second, she asked us to hold in our awareness someone about whom we feel indifference, extending compassion to that person, allowing those feelings to hold us in the pose. During the third, she asked us to hold in our awareness someone whom we dislike. She then called us to hold the pose for what felt like a very long time, using our extension of compassion in such a situation to create the energy we needed to hold the pose.

As she called the various postures and breaths, Alanna also taught us about the aspects of yoga to which each chakra is most related – philosophy, ethics, morality, joy, interrelationships. The combination of intellectual and spiritual training, physical engagement, mantric expression, devotion to God, and community formation was unique in my experience of yoga, though it had a familiar sensation to it.

At the end of the practice, Alanna asked us, as we remained blindfolded, to engage in a very active version of what I learned as a solitary metta (or lovingkindness – see below “Responses to Fifteenth Class”) meditation several years ago. But this time, while our bodies were engaged and tired from the practice, blindfolds still over our eyes, Alanna instructed us to find a neighbor without speaking. For those of us whose neighbors found others, Alanna led others to us. With each student in the class paired up with another, she instructed us to kneel facing the other person, and to extend compassion and love to that person. She instructed us to remove our blindfolds, keeping our eyes closed. Then she instructed us to place one hand on our own heart while holding the other’s shoulder with the left hand. She instructed us to open our eyes and look into the eyes of the other, extending the same compassion and love without judgment, statement, or limitation. After several minutes, she instructed us to return to our mats, and we ended the class with a chant.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Classes

Week 6: Days 2-3
Saturday afternoon was a posture clinic led by Jane.

Eagle modifications: students can perform Eagle without the arm twist, but with arms parallel and lifted. Cue four basic actions to the pose: center hips and shoulders; open chest with shoulder blades together; lengthen spine; draw knees, elbows, and wrists to center line of body. Consider: “exhale, right arm under, right leg up and over” “lower belly engages; lengthen the back of the neck; lift elbows away from chest; thumbs away from face.

Dancer’s pose: For some students, getting into a one-legged balance is the entire pose. If student’s quads are tight, student may bend over to reach and touch foot.. First cue to get hips aligned to front and level; then kick back and lift arm. Cue students to grab soft part of arch, thumb pointed to back. Cue hitchhiker’s thumb. Some still won’t get it.

Adjustment: standing slightly behind student, put your back hip into student’s front hip; put your forward arm across student’s front torso for stability; then use your back hand to adjust the student’s grip on the student’s foot. That way you are assuming responsibility for the balance in the pose, and student can learn correct grip.

Tree: Cue foot above/below knee joint; ok to keep toe of lifted foot on ground; neutral hips; lengthen tail bone; soften shoulders; hip socket of bent leg should be opening.

When teaching balancing poses, cue that it’s ok to lose your balance, fall out of pose, then resume pose.

Triangle: widen stance of feet; arms extended, ankles should be under wrists. Cue: lengthen underside; reach way forward, when you can’t reach farther forward, rotate lower arm down, upper arm up. Rest lower hand on forward shin; spill pelvis to one side; straighten torso to avoid making lump in ribcage. Most students will go to the edge of their mobility range in their hip, and then they’ll bend their spines to get hand to floor. Better to keep spine straight and put hand onto shin. Engage core to come back up.

Prasarita Padottanasana: To coach student out of pose: walk hands forward, draw to a flat back, then rise. Some will adjust feet wide to get into pose, and narrow them to get out. Cue pelvic floor muscles. Turn forward foot to front of room, then forward knee; then windmill arms to the floor: chaturanga dandasana.
Cobra: Upper back workout. Cue: Chin, chest and hands roll off the mat. Lengthen and soften back of neck; gaze down; slide glutes down to lengthen back and tail bone.

Floor bow: Cue: reach for top of feet or ankles; lift feet up and back; press tops of feet into your hands. Watch for student’s knees spreading; cue inward rotation of thighs; gaze forward.

Camel: Cues: stand on knees, feet parallel; hands to base of spine; hips over knees; lift breastbone to sky; unweight low back. Don’t cue C1 students to drop hands to heels – they’ll try it and hurt themselves if not flexible. Cue to keep neck neutral until end, then relax. Camel is both a powerful and scary pose. Warn students of dizziness, nausea, emotions. No other animal willingly enters this pose, with the entire underside exposed and vulnerable. Opening to it enables spiritual growth, but as its results can be unexpected, it’s best to warn students in advance so they know how to deal with its effects.

Paschimottanasana: draw glutes back from sitz bones; straighten legs, drawing feet back to face; bend forward with a flat back; if no lower back issues, round down lower.

Sunday was a two-part session.

The morning was a jivamukti yoga session led by Alanna.

The class got set up (three rows of yoga mats, probably 60 people, all told). Then Alanna greeted each of us individually, looking us in the eye and bowing, hands in Anjali mudra.

She then lectured on chakras.
Ø Energy centers
Ø Doorways
Ø Levels of consciousness
Ø As you observe the posture of a student, consider the chakras associated with aspects of posture, holding places for energy.
Ø As we move through the chakras, many westerners are characteristically out of balance.

When you are able to heal yourself, you can become a great teacher. Everyone has some kind of injury – whether a disc, a neck muscle, the heart. We tend to be out of balance.

Chakras are described in detail in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. All styles of hatha yoga derive from that work. It was written between the 10th and 14th centuries by a renegade group. Radical. (radical means “root”; a radical gets to the root of something). HYP emphasizes how to free minds, both one’s own and others’. It emphasizes kriya yoga. Kriya focuses on the purification of the body. It involves esoteric practices such as irrigation of sinuses. It also includes posture practice and describes 14 asanas, the use of mudras (mudras are physical actions or poses, typically in the hands, that entail symbolism of various kinds. HYP also describes nadis and marma points – these are understood as energy channels running through the subtle body. One mudra is formed by extending the fingers of the hand, and drawing the tip of the forefinger to the tip of the thumb in a circle. In this mudra, the forefinger represents the individual, the thumb represents god. It is the mudra symbolizing wisdom. The three extended fingers represent the three gunas. (NB: for more on gunas

HYP describes chakras in detail. The ultimate goal of hatha yoga is not actually enlightenment, but rather nagam, or silence – to be able to hear the sound of perfect silence. Listening is the one and only way that you can communicate with God. Prayer – even silent prayer – is speaking through vibrations of the mind. If you listen closely enough, god communicates the same way – through vibrations of your mind. We chant OM to align ourselves with the vibrations of the divine. The most fundamental thing of all is vibration. We refine our inward listening by refining our outward listening. We can move in that direction by listening to uplifting music, observing silence, listening without judgment – and recognize in this that all thought is judgment of one kind or another.

One reason not to practice with your class of yoga students, when teaching, is to encourage your students to listen, rather than to watch. Eyes give us 80% of the information we receive about the world around us. What do eyes see? What we want or expect them to see. Optical illusions can happen – not sound illusions. You see what you are ready to see.

Alanna then stated that she owns three snakes, which she takes out for fresh air in the park sometimes. She stated: I can’t tell you how many times people have walked right past an 8 foot boa constrictor without ever seeing it. Its presence doesn’t register with them because they haven’t imagined seeing such a thing in a city park. She then referred to a scene from What the Bleep Do We Know?, where the main character cannot see Columbus’ ships as they arrive in the West Indies – the ships appear to be clouds, as there is no other referent for them that makes sense. Where there is no context for a view, there is no view.

Ask yourself this: “what am I missing right now because I don’t understand enough to see it?”

Chakras are seven centers of vibration in the body. Each of the seven has a unique vibration associated with it. Everything is vibrational.

Recommended book: Nara Bramha. Source for some of these ideas. You should never be surprised when someone walks into the room – your awareness should be open to that information well in advance of the person’s arrival. All things vibrate, and we can perceive those vibrations. We may perceive some more than others. How do we align to perceive them? Set aside judgment, which mixes in and confuses perception.

Alanna then led us through guided meditation and chant to engage with various of the chakras, making the point that the only way to experience chakras is to experience them. Descriptions don’t usefully approximate the experience.
She then provided us with bandanas for blindfolds, and led us through a 2 hour vinyasa practice.

Though I took no notes during that practice, I’ll try to write up later my perceptions of and reactions to that experience.

Sunday afternoon was an adjustment clinic held in Cheesman Park. It began with a discussion of the morning session. Various people made the following points:

Ø Jivamukti has as a goal “openness”
Ø When you don’t notice a feeling in a chakra, explore the aspects of life associated with that chakra. You may find reasons for the numbness or lack of perception.
Ø The practice was radical
Ø The practice was really intense – scary and terrifying. My yoga mat seemed very small.
Ø The words Alanna used throughout the practice were powerful. They struck several deep chords.
Ø It is intimate to look into another’s eyes.
o Alanna: I learned it from ____. He does marriage counseling, as well. He instructs couples with problems to look into each others’ eyes without comment but while emoting compassion, acceptance and love for 60 minutes at a stretch.
Ø It makes you realize that you can have that kind of connection with other people – no words
Ø I could feel the vibrations in some chakras – I felt alive and radiant
Ø You asked us to hold wheel longer for someone else – and I managed to hold it longer than I have ever done for myself
o Alanna: the last set of wheel poses done for someone whom you dislike lifts a great weight off of some people.
Ø I noticed imbalances more while blindfolded.

Alanna: HYP talks about the control channel, the shushumna nadi. It is typically blocked. Right and left sides start at base (muladana) and rise spiraling along the spine, crossing at chakras. Right – heart, energy, “ha”: sun. Left – lower, cooling, “tha”=moon. Kundalini – imaged as a snake coiled at the base, blocking energy channels. Wakes when fire (tapas) is generated. When the right channel is blocked, you can harm others. When the left is blocked, you can harm yourself.

“Entrainment” occurs in an orchestra when all the instruments are in tune but one. The vibrations from the others tend to tune the out of tune instrument. When you play two notes simultaneously, even if not within standard harmonic intervals, eventually, you can come to perceive their relationship to one another. Flocks of birds are so entrained to one another – so aware, that they move as one. Same with schools of fish. Collision is a human phenomenon.

Adjustment clinic review:

Concentration – 100% on student, 100% on class.
intention – serve student; when intention is right, adjustment will be right
breathing – match student’s breath pattern while adjusting
connect to earth – safety, start at grounding level, balance provides frame of reference for adjustments. Train eyes to start at ground and work up
have direction – know where you’re going by making sure you’ve been there before you lead others; in some yoga traditions the very touch of a teacher can transmit all the teacher’s knowledge and enlightenment to the student. When you touch a student, your touch gives the student your knowledge of that asana, knowledge of starting, of experiencing, of ending.
Honor and acknowledge student’s pain – because you want them to be able to walk at the end of the adjustment; recall that pain can be pain or it can be fear and student won’t know the difference; open your awareness and listen to student. Become empty of yourself. Practice and meditate and listen and work with those who will give you feedback.
Regularity, enthusiasm, caution – balance all three
Take responsibility – for students’ experience in your class; for their health and well being; for their spiritual enlightenment; visualize their potential.


Utkatasana: Stand behind student, your feet close to student’s heels, bend knees slightly and with hands on student’s hips, draw student’s hips onto your thighs just above the knees.

Virabhadrasana II: Start at feet – brace foot, drawing heel back; tail swipe for duck butts; draw student’s back arm farther back to straighten forward-leaning torso; if torso and leg move in that adjustment, brace the student’s back hip with your thumb at crease and then pull arm; front leg adjustment: with thumb of one hand in hip crease, pull front arm forward.

Tango adjustment: kneel behind student, facing same direction. Put your back hip into your student’s front hip and reach around the student’s torso, placing your front hand on student’s hip bone, drawing it back while maintaining forward hip pressure – this places student “between two panes of glass.”

Extended side angle: when pose is performed elbow-to-knee, use the same adjustments as Virabhadrasana II. If reaching forward, help internally rotate front arm. Also use Triangle adjustments here, too.

Natarajasana: Behind student, start by providing (with your front arm) a platform for the student’s uplifted arm to rest on, providing some lift. Then grasp the ankle of the student’s bent leg and lift straight up.

Tree: start from behind student. With fingertips on student’s temples, lift slightly on both sides simultaneously; bracket student’s heel with your first two toes; keep contact with temples throughout pose – balance will be disrupted otherwise.

Bujangasana: draw just the shoulders back – do not lift the student’s shoulders, nor pull them backwards. Place both hands palms down on student’s sacrum, press down and draw hands toward glutes (fingers pointed up back, not down). Or stand with the balls of your feet pressed onto the balls of the student’s foot.

Backbend series: child’s pose: pressure on ilium, pull back and rock gently. Work your hands up either side of the spine, pressing outwards with the heels of your palms, walking hands up spine.

Urdhva Dhanurasana: using your feet, block the student’s knees from widening too much; rest your elbows on your thighs, your hands beneath student’s heels, and lift straight up, using bicep strength. In this pose, with some students, you can lift them from the floor entirely, but only do so if their spines are very flexible and their bodies are in a teardrop shape.

Ustrasana: Let student drop back into pose first. Then move directly in front of student, feet on either side of student’s hips. Press your knees into the student’s hips, so you can control their movements with your hips, then reach under their arms to their backs (or even to their necks, if you can reach), and draw your hands down their backs (toward yourself), bearing some of the student’s weight yourself. Hold here until end of pose. Then help to lift student out of pose, but as soon as student starts to come out of pose, get out of the way to avoid discomforting student.

Bridge: Check foot placement, adjust as needed; straddle student’s knees, resting your sitz bones on student’s knees; bending forward, place hands at top of student’s thighs, helping to lift hips at student’s gluteal tuck; draw student’s legs into inward rotation.

Supine twist: Direct student into pose. Put your forward foot against student’s hip, rolling your ankle into student’s sacrum. Place your forward hand on student’s chest, just below shoulder, other hand on student’s thigh near hip, drawing thigh down to lengthen student’s spine, or place back hand lower on thigh (closer to knee), to deepen twist.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Sixteenth Class

Week 6: Day 1

Greta’s birthday – we celebrated with a Sanskrit chant from Alanna and an offering of tapas from the class members, in the form of heat radiating from hands rubbed together. Interesting.

Dave encouraged us to accept where we are as teaching trainees and allow ourselves to continue developing.

We then reviewed garudasana – eagle pose. Eagle pose is symbolic of the eagle as a devourer. The pose restricts blood flows to the arms and legs, leading to a sense of release when the pose ends. The full expression of this pose requires a forward bend, elbows over knees, and hands at face (like the beak of an eagle). In moving into this pose, consider the eagle flying high over the water looking for prey.

Dancer’s Pose, nataranjasana, is an exercise in concentration, balance and coordination. It strengthens standing ankles and feet, strengthens groins. It requires close concentration to balance and avoidance of distraction. Tight visual focus is important, as well.

We then began working the corepower Triangle Pose series. For Triangle pose, utthita trikonasana, see:

In moving into this pose from Warrior 2, turn the back foot forward, feet in one line. Keep torso straight and in one plane (don’t twist it or crunch one side). Really work the external rotation of the front leg. Place hand on shin to get correct alignment – don’t go for the floor unless your torso is perfectly aligned at horizontal. Front knee should point toward the toes – not roll in. Cue students to lengthen both sides of the body/It doesn’t matter how close the hand comes to the ground. Adjusting students, standing on their dorsal side, and slightly ahead of them, take their front arm in yours; place the thumb of the hand of your back arm in their hip crease, the rest of your hand extended toward their glutes, and draw the front arm forward, while pushing firmly at the hip. Once the student is extended, release the adjustment and allow the student to drop the forward arm to the shin or floor. Emphasize that there is no prize for getting hand to floor. Cue tucking the front hip under the back. Inhale, reach forward; exhale reach more forward.

Triangle is good for legs and spine, engaging all muscles on the front and back of the body. For hyperextending students, cue a microbend to the front knee. Emphasize that the posture is not a twist – it’s a side bend. Consider the three angles of the pose to be beginning, middle, and end; A-U-M, Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva; tall, grande, and venti.

We then reviewed the breath/pose cue sequence for Tree through prasarita padottanasana:

Cobra pose – bujanganasa: From belly-down savasana, cue hands beneath shoulders, inhale, lifting torso; keep feet together and toenails glued to the floor; no weight in the hands/lift hands slightly off the floor. The pose opens the heart, and relieves pressure from sciatica. The hands and feet are in the same mat positions in this pose as in Upward facing dog. Some students get butt-crunch issues in this pose. Remind them to relax the glutes, as you should do in all backbends. Note that when glutes are crunched in this pose, the heels will roll in, rather than out. Cue internal thigh rotation. Consider putting a block between students’ feet and instruct them to grip it as they perform the pose.

Bow Pose – dhanurasana: Same glute issues in this pose – consider using a block between the knees here. If knees are open wide, glutes are engaged and need to be relaxed. Watch students for breath-holding in this pose. Students’ bodies should move up with inhalation, down with exhalation. Ideally, knees and shoulders will be in the same horizontal plane, but most folk are more flexible in one aspect than the other. This pose helps relieve backache. In fact, the most therapeutic thing for back pain is back bends. The lumbar spine naturally has an inward curve. Backbends use and emphasize that curve. It’s the forward bends that can aggravate existing spine problems.

From Bow pose, students move to Camel, or ustrasana: Cues: Walk on your knees to the center of your mat. Place your knees hip-width distance apart. Push the tops of your toes into the floor. Put your hands on your lower back, like pushing them into the back pockets of your pants. Press hips firmly forward. Relax your neck and back into a backbend. Keep your hands at your lower back or reach palms to heels for deeper bend. Camel pose is the opposite of the position we hold ourselves in at desk work. It opens the aorta at the samt time that it compresses kidneys, where we hold anger, toxins, and several hormones. Those are released into the circulatory system. This pose precipitates in many people strong feelings of dizziness, nausea, and emotion. Camel pose shifted 90 degrees to the front becomes Bow pose. Camel pose shifted 90 degrees to the back becomes Bridge.

From Camel, students move to Bridge pose, or setu bandha sarvangasana: From savasana cue hands to sides, palms down; feet to glutes, hip distance apart; lift hips; bring hands together beneath uplifted back. Cue students to keep head and neck straight, cautioning them not to turn neck. If they want to see others in the pose, cue them to come out of it, first.

Reclining bound-angle pose, supta badda konasana

When practicing shoulderstand, salamba sirsasanana, have students draw their shoulderblades together enough to draw the prominence of the C7 vertebra into the space between the blades, lifting the prominence off the floor. This can be a point of pain for some students.