Category Archives: Teaching

The Yoga Sutras – Book 1 & 2

Book 1, Sutra 4: At other times [the Self appears to] assume the forms of the mental modifications.

Book 1, Sutra 30: Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained Ė these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles.

Iíve been thinking about obstacles. New York is full of them. About a month ago I went to the kirtan at Sonic and one of the song we did was a chant to Ganesha. One of the cantors talked about Ganesha as the remover of obstacles, or the one who carefully places obstacles in our way when we need them. I didnít understand this later explanation and itís been nagging at the back of my mind.

In Book 1, Sutra 30, Patanjali talks about the nature of obstacles, and their residence in the mind. Despite that I consider my biggest obstacles to live outside of my own body, Patanjali reminds me that the true obstacles are within, in the mind. Linking this to Book 1, Sutra 4, I realized that the most effective way to remove obstacles, internal or external, is to change my mind about them.

I thought some more about the cantor’s description of Ganesha. The Prana has a sense of humor and a sense of deep compassion. There are obstacles within me that I have been turning away from for too long. I deal with them by avoiding them. So Ganesha, in his wisdom, forces me to deal with my obstacles by placing other obstacles in my way that I must respond to, ones that I cannot turn away from. And in dealing with those obstacles, I am being forced to deal with the bigger obstacles within.

I need to slow down, to learn how to make and stick to boundaries, to find my edge and live there Ė mentally and physically Ė so he handed me a yoga practice so intense that I have a sore bum and the need for far more sleep than usual. I have no choice but to slow down and consider what it is that Iím really trying to do with this life. For too long, Iíve been so worried that if I slow down, Iíll miss out. Iíll lose an opportunity or a lucky break.

Since I was a child, I have struggled with insomnia. My mind and my body literally couldnít calm down and go to sleep. Now almost 2/3 of the way through this yoga teacher training, I am sleeping better than I ever have in my life. For 18 minutes a day, I think about these two Sutras. I think about changing my mind, and I wait. And the opportunities, better than ever, are showing up. I donít need to keep looking around for a better life. The one I have is amazing; nowís the time to slow down and appreciate every moment.

Reflections on the Bhagavad Gita

Guest post by Christa Avampato

ďAs a man adorns worn-out clothes and acquires new ones, so when the body is worn out a new one is acquired by the Self, who lives within.Ē ~ 2:22

On Labor Day weekend in 2009, my apartment building caught fire. I was almost trapped inside and only by following my intuition was I able to get out in time. Almost all of my belongings were lost to extensive smoke damage. September 5, 2009 was a kind of death date for me; a date when stripped of almost all my material possessions, I realized that none of it mattered at all. I stood outside in a t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops, holding nothing but my keys, watching my apartment building burn. Looking back, I think of that day as a day when I stepped out of my old, worn-out Self, and into a new frame. I still donít know what the art inside this new frame will look like just yet. Iím a work-in-progress.

Verse 2:22 in the Bhagavad Gita, one of the texts I had to read for my yoga teacher training, resonated with me, as does that image of Shiva, the Destroyer, dancing in a ring of fire. Sometimes we get in the way of our own personal development. We get bogged down with belongings, material and emotional. We need not stand on a burning platform, literally nor figuratively, to recognize that change is needed. Yoga can be the practice that helps us recognize our truth, our purpose, our dharma.

Continue reading

Learning to Fly

“If you make a rule [or tell yourself a story], be prepared to stand by it with conviction. Also be prepared to change it at any moment.” ~ Will Duprey

My brain is growing exponentially. I’ve been practicing yoga, mostly at home, for 11 years. I read about it, write about it, talk about it, practice it almost daily, and yet this teacher training is growing my practice and consciousness by leaps and bounds, and we’re only two weeks in to a 12 week program. Today Will Duprey, one of my teachers, taught us to fly by grounding us. Continue reading

On the Mat and in the World

I began my vinyasa yoga teacher training last Saturday. My head’s been swimming with Sanskrit, ancient Hindu texts, and physiology. I had a moment, or rather many moments, of panic. Maybe I’m in over my head. Maybe this process was a very bad idea given the vertical learning curve I’m clearly on, with no end in sight. It was all a bit overwhelming until one of my instructors, Johanna, made a very simple statement that put the entire teacher training process in perspective for me. “As you are in the mat so you are in the world.” And for that matter, vice versa. Continue reading

Yoga and the Olympics

208In Yoga Journal last month, there was an article about three Olympic athletes are use yoga as a serious component of their training: Chandra Crawford (cross-country skier), Emily Brydon (alpine skier), and Shannon Deanne Bahrke (freestyle skier). As someone who is considering how to build a love of yoga into a career, this is another reminder that there are so many ways this can play out.
Continue reading

A Rested Mind

ďFor those just coming back from vacation, think carefully about what you are going to put your fresh, valuable mind to in your first few days. Value this resource highly. It may be your only chance to see the mountain you are on, to decide if you’re taking the right path up, or even if it’s the right mountain to be climbing at all.Ē ~ David Rock in Psychology Today

For the past few weeks, Iíve been working on clearing my mind more often during the day. The natural tendency for a busy mind is to work ever-harder to crack a problem or find an innovative solution. The yogic belief is that a clear, unburdened, relaxed mind is actually a more creative, efficient problem solver. And now that belief has a boost from hardcore science.

Continue reading

A (Soon-to-Be) Teacher Prepares

A decade ago, a friend of mine noticed the toll that stress was taking on my life. I was in a new career and drowning. He threw me a lifeline and offered to give me private yoga lessons. Not realizing the tremendous offer that he put on the table, I told him I didn’t have time. Without batting an eye, he told me to make time because this work would be important. Then I told him I didn’t have any money for yoga, and he told me he’d teach me for free. The only payment he requested was that I pay forward the favor if I found yoga helpful. His offer changed my life because yoga allowed me to generate and hold peace in the palm of my hand.

Continue reading

Teaching, Beginning, Being One Piece

Yesterday I taught a workshop for Internet Week NY. I’d randomly decided their schedule of events needed “yoga and teatime” in addition to the lectures and cocktail parties. I set up an RSVP form, so I could gauge interest and experience levels, and had 40 people “interested”, and 14 people RSVP. Nearly all marked their experience level as “0Ė10 classes”; none marked “over 100″. So I got to thinking about what I wanted to teach in a true beginners’ class ó the last time I taught beginners, I was still teaching the Atmananda Sequence verbatim.

I knew that Sun Salutations were a good place to start; they supposedly contain every essential alignment, and since students are forced to do them all the time in classes, they would be valuable topics to cover.

I was also thinking about the specific audience: Internet Week participants, i.e. people who sit in Computer Pose 40 hours a week. So I thought some wrist, shoulder, neck, and back movements might be good: Table Top, Locust, Rabbit, Seated Crescent, Spinal Twist, Bow. Also some stretches for the hip flexors, which sit in 90ļ forward bends all day: Lunges, Hero, Camel.

And I was chewing on something Leslie said last week: “the PRINCIPLE of Chaturanga is learning to hold the body all in one piece.” (Quote is approximate.) It was so interesting to think about a single lesson we can learn in each pose. And then I thought, well, this is a good thing to work on in ALL poses: finding the unity and integration of the body. On a practical level, it teaches us to avoid injury by using our whole body to lift boxes, get out of bed, stand on our heads, etc. On a mental/emotional level, it reduces the hierarchical war of head, heart, gut, and hips; we want them ALL to be happy and acknowledged. And it’s a good metaphor for the Internet: bringing vast and varied communities together in one piece. It’s kind of the whole point of yoga: union, coming together.

Finally, I was feeling like challenging Down Dog. Ever since my shoulder injury, I have been realizing how complex this pose actually is. There are a thousand ways you can arrange the shoulders in this pose, and a thousand points of emphasis. It’s a subtle balancing act of how much to widen the shoulders (or not), externally rotate the upper arms, internally rotate the forearms, straighten the arms (or not), send the sitbones or the tail to the sky, lengthen the spine or relax the neck… and that’s not even getting into the unique upper body strength one must build. (Practicing Half Down Dog standing at the wall is a great start, but still we need something to fill the vinyasa.) So, all I needed was another relevant aside from Leslie (“Down Dog, for all its ubiquity, is not really a beginner’s pose…”) to have the validation I needed to try something new. (Leslie, here’s a prime cut of someone taking your ideas and bastardizing them straight into yoga class ;) Child’s Pose is the usual substitution, but I didn’t want to lose the upper body strengthening entirely, so I played around with Dolphin, the forearm stand version of Down Dog, where I could focus on the shoulders and upper arms more clearly. So this is a full-fledged Vinyasa class with absolutely no Down Dogs.

And then I took some of my favorite poses and glued everything together in an order that flowed. Here it is. It went well enough that I got a round of applause at the end of the class :) :) :) For those of you that attended the class, I hope you enjoyed it and find a way to make it your own!

Continue reading

Yoga Licensing Update

For those that have been following New York State’s recent decision to treat yoga teacher trainings as vocational programs, here’s an update:

  • Yoga Union hosted a friendly meeting last week with the state education department, who softened their position somewhat. YogaCityNYC attended, and continues to report on the situation.
  • The New York Daily News posted a great editorial about the state’s Kafkaesque enforcement of its outdated laws ó claiming to have consumer protection in mind even though “Department spokesman Tom Dunn acknowledged… that it has never in its history received a complaint about subpar yoga training.” It’s all about the licensing fees, people.
  • Jo Brill updated her resource page with many new links and tips.
  • Om Factory is hosting an informational meeting on Tuesday, June 2nd, at 2pm. Alison West is organizing. Please email yogaunionnyc at gmail dot com if you plan to attend, or would like more info.
  • And Leslie Kaminoff said “I told you so” ó be sure to read his long but worthwhile thread on the original discussions on certification versus licensing. Thoughtful arguments at the beginning, many wise teachers chiming in at the end.

The yoga community is healthy and self-regulating, with a safe certification system already in place, and that this foolish licensing will put many small businesses into the graveyard! Yoga is a vast, ancient system of personal development that does not conform to a bureaucratic standardization of requirements. It can be anything from spirituality to athletics, and there’s no way to quantify what makes a “good” teacher. It’s different for every student. Yoga is an art form of self expression, and teacher trainings are just passing this on.

And for those that find politics deadly dull, here’s a picture of a fawn and a bobcat snuggling.

deer bobcat
La la la la