Tag Archives: advanced

We Are Incredibly Powerful Beings

“The whole system that we live in drills into us that we’re powerless, that we’re weak, that our society is evil, that it’s fraudulent, and so forth. It’s all a big fat lie. We are powerful, beautiful, extraordinary. There is no reason why we cannot understand who we truly are, where we are going. There is no reason why the average individual cannot be fully empowered. We are incredibly powerful beings.”

“I think I spent thirty years of my life trying to become something, I wanted to become good at things. I wanted to become good at tennis, I wanted to become good at school, and grades, and everything I kind of viewed in that perspective: I’m not okay the way I am, but if I got good at things… I realized I had the game wrong — the game was to find out what I already was.”

“Now, in our culture we’ve been trained for individual differences to stand out, so you look at each person and the immediate hit is brighter, dumber, older, younger, richer, poorer, and we make all of these dimensional distinctions, put them in categories and treat them that way. And we get so that we only see others as separate from ourselves, in the ways in which they’re separate, and one of the dramatic characteristics of experience is being with another person and suddenly seeing the ways in which they are like you, not different from you. And experiencing the fact that which is essence in you, and which is essence in me, is indeed ONE, the understanding that there is no other, it is all one.”

— Zeitgeist, The Movie

Advanced Vinyasa Yoga with Ariel Karass at Greenhouse Holistic

Ariel Karass
Ariel Karass

Yesterday was my third or fourth class with Ariel, one of the newer teachers at Greenhouse. He also teaches at Kula and David Barton. Such a sweet guy, but his classes are like boot camp! (Tasty, tasty boot camp.) A 90-minute class will be 85 minutes of standing poses, followed by a bit of relaxation / meditation. (He’s always running over, so I think they’re going to make the class an hour and 45 minutes instead.) But his sequencing is so interesting, and his demeanor so calming, that it never feels that long. He has reminded me of what I love about vinyasa, and inspired me to keep going with it.

A Laughing Lotus grad, Ariel teaches a textbook Lotus class: crazy variations you’ve never seen before, a charismatic soundtrack, and a dance-like flow. (Minus any chanting, however.) He’ll do three or four long sequences per class, repeating each one once or twice. Each sequence is like 20 poses, so I inevitably think he’s forgotten to do the other side — I don’t know how he remembers them. The class is intermediate/advanced level (it was originally called advanced, but no one showed up), so it includes things like Crow with one leg extended, Peacock with the elbows by the sides, Standing Splits with the torso rotated sideways, or half-bound Half Moon. The great thing about new poses is that you return to beginner’s mind: listening with full attention and humility. There are so many new details to master that there’s less room for an internal narrative. Same thing for physical challenges: you get to ride the edge of awareness by pushing yourself. So for 90 minutes, this class lets you get outside your head and just act.

I also love how Ariel includes key pranayama and bandha exercises within the vinyasa flow. In Parsvottanasana (Forward Angle), or Down Dog, you’ll complete an exhale, then retain the breath as you lift the head or the hips, feeling the uddiyana bandha. Kapalabhati is similarly worked into surprising places.

There aren’t a million alignment details in his classes, so be sure you know where your knees and tail should be pointing before you go. But he’s great about encouraging patience and compassion, and the pace is moderate, so there’s plenty of time and space for modifications if you know them. A rubber mat would be a good idea, as I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so sweaty, and the standard blue mats tend to slide a bit.

Advanced Vinyasa with Joe Miller at Om Yoga

Joe Miller
Joe Miller

This weekend I had an old yoga friend in town, which was really great because I got dragged to Vinyasa classes and Burning Man decompressions instead of bars and Broadway. I got to talk about Warrior I for twenty minutes! Because this fall, the real issue is whether your front heel should align with the middle of your back arch or not. And don’t get me started on the sitbones.

Her friend, who also studied at Atmananda with us, goes to Joe Miller’s Vinyasa class every Saturday at Om Yoga (near the Strand). It was rainy and windy, and my stomach ached, but I went (since that’s what you do when friends are in town… and they have free passes).

According to his bio, Joe has done the full Yoga Anatomy / Breath-Centered Yoga training with Leslie Kaminoff. (The same one I’ve just started.) I’ve been wondering how teachers work this material into their classes. Good answer: Start off with an illustration of diaphragmatic movement, using interlaced fingers and the movement of the elbows/forearms. Clear and interesting.

Joe was quite knowledgeable, and had an amazing eye. He could spot a tipped ankle from across the room. He leads the anatomy portion of Om Yoga’s teacher training (I think), and gave us many subtle details on the poses, without being overwhelming. In Down Dog, for example, he told me I needed to lift the undersides of my arms up, all the way to the shoulder socket, especially on the left side. This made total sense; I’ve had some crackling and weakness in my left shoulder lately that finally made me realize I tend to work my right arm more than my left. [Or, I might have a weak serratus anterior on the left side, and need to do some one-armed pushups! Thanks to Edya Kalev at the Breathing Project for that one.]

Thats me in Marichyasana A
I am ROCKING Marichyasana A here

Major bonus: Joe also explained Marichyasana (A) so that I finally understand what the hell it’s supposed to be doing. When sitting in that tightly bound forward bend, I get either the lean forward (which tips me sideways) or both sitbones down (which tips me backwards). It’s one or the other, and since I never knew the primary purpose of the pose — hamstring stretch? abdominal compression? — I couldn’t prioritize my movement. Joe says both sitbones should be down, but there is a strong lift of the sternum (using the arm against the bent leg) that will then create the forward movement. And it all became clear to me… [singing angels noise]

We did several poses from the Ashtanga series, including the seated jump-backs that I normally hate (they are so arbitrary!), but I could watch my friend do them breezily and be proud. The class and sequence were well-paced (I definitely broke a sweat) considering the amount of information Joe was giving. It’s hard to cover a lot of anatomical detail without going into super-talky workshop mode.

It is so great to find a wonderful teacher who hasn’t left New York to start touring the world…

Master Class with Dharma Mittra

Dharmas trademark pose, Unsupported Headstand
Dharma's trademark pose, Unsupported Headstand

Yesterday I took myself for a treat — Dharma Mittra’s two-hour master class, over on 23rd and 3rd. Populated mostly by teachers and serious yoga addicts, there’s nevertheless a friendly, non-competitive vibe. People are rolling from splits into one-handed handstands, or hopping on their forearms, but it never feels like showing off. Dharma’s laughing in the background, and saying “Don’t do more than the teacher can do! You make him embarrassed!” while the students float and fly. He teaches more inversions than any teacher I know, and there’s a whole troupe of amazing handstanders there, buoyed I think by the lilac carpet.

I went to work on my backbend — one of Dharma’s students is recreating his famous 908-pose poster with all of his students (shh, it’s a surprise gift), and I would like to demo Full Wheel or a variation. Jhon T’s sequence gave me the splits, and Dharma’s classes (with their million Crescent Poses) gave me my backbend so I’m excited to give it back via the poster. I will never forget the moment I reached Full Wheel, with my fingertips to my heels, in Dharma’s class on my birthday last year. [Yes, one’s mental state in the pose is more important than the pose itself, but I admit total pleasure in the Achievement.] The feeling of expansion and otherworldliness in that pose is intense.

Dharma pushes extremely acrobatic, athletic yoga, but reminds you that you’re practicing for God and not yourself. Meaning, meditate in these poses, let the energy flow through you without pride or expectation, and make yourself into an offering to the world. He’s such a radiant yet humble person that it is a burst of inspiration and relaxation to go there.

PS — Dharma’s adding a Level I/II class on Thursday nights, for people who want to experience his teaching but are “too scared” to take the Master Classes.

Breathing with J. Brown at Abhyasa Yoga

J. Brown in his Vinyasa days

This morning I got up early (9:15) and went to J.Brown’s class at Abhyasa. It’s the new studio on Metropolitan and Leonard. I really liked the essays he posted on the studio’s site; like me, he’s looking for something more than just acrobatics and athletic achievement of poses. (I should say for me, in addition to the athletics — see previous entries on the value of sweat.)

That something is breathing. Even if you’ve mastered the practice of keeping ujayi breath through each and every pose and transition — not an easy task — I learned today that you can still adjust the breath itself. It’s like practicing internal alignment: feeling out the strength, location, duration, and aftereffects of the pressure from your diaphragm/lungs.

This clarifies the infuriating phrase “go deeper into the pose.” (What does that mean??? I always wondered. We’re not spelunking…)

For example: as we lay in a Simple Reclined Twist (on the back, knees together, twisting to the left with both shoulders on the floor), J. had me inhale and hold for a brief moment. I felt the breath gathered in front of my shoulder blades, creating a slight tension. As I exhaled, I felt the tension release along with the breath. This was new.

He explained that stretching does not always release tension; many people are very flexible but still very tense. (Ahem.) Breathing releases tension. Approaching the poses halfway, and allowing room to breathe, will lead to a more transformative pose than going 110% with every muscle and nerve.

Alignment instructions were very good, although different than most classical classes. (e.g: Shoulders slightly up and back, instead of back and down, to wring out the upper back. Elbows slightly bent out in Chaturanga, for the same reason.) You can tell he has studied Vinyasa and Iyengar. He talks a lot; if you like instructions you will surely get them.

I am curious if this approach can be applied to a faster class. I feel that there’s this neo-Hatha slowness going around, όber-Vinyasa sticking around, and a big chasm in between. Today’s class was Open level, but it was the same speed (and basically the same sequence) that he taught in the Beginners’ class in the park. (This might have been for my benefit, as he really rolled out the red-carpet-welcome-mat new student treatment for me.) My guess: eventually, by starting slowly and achieving breath awareness at each level, the pace can eventually pick up to cardio level. Crew and dance have taught me that it’s better to memorize something slowly and correctly, rather than quickly and wrong, so that’s kind of the approach I’m going for with deeper breathing.

Poses in the Park

The Atmananda Sequence. Poster designed by me!

Last night I jogged to the park and did almost the entire Atmananda Sequence. It takes about an hour to do all 69 poses — it’s a very fast vinyasa class. I forgot Peacock, Firefly, and Boat. I skipped Frog and Sleeping Yogi. (Legs behind the head in the middle of Brooklyn is a little racy, even for me.) This is the sequence that inspired me to do a teacher training. It’s great for strength, flexibility, and focus (it’s so fast you have to pay complete attention or you lose it).

8:30pm is a great time to practice outdoors.

Double Day

I actually did a decent sequence this evening in the park. I’ve been doing way more breathing exercises and meditation than “actual poses” lately, so it felt great to stretch. Although it’s always weird to practice in a crowded Brooklyn park, you feel so many eyes on you (even if they’re not). Here’s the part that flowed really nicely:

  • Prayer Pose (standing, w/hands together)
  • Forward Bend w/hands interlaced behind back
  • High Lunge
  • Bound Revolved Side Angle
  • Bound Revolved Half Moon
  • Airplane (low lunge with forearms on ground)
  • Hamstring Stretch (from low lunge, sit hips back on heel and stretch front leg)
  • Half Moon (circling arm forward and leaning onto front leg to come up)
  • Dancer’s Pose
  • Full Dancer’s Pose (both hands over head to grasp toe)
  • Prayer Pose

Then the other side. Tree into Flying Crow was also a nice transition. And I held a Handstand, unsupported, for 2 whole seconds :)

The nice thing about the park is that I can jog to warm up, so I don’t have to do Sun Salutes! I really hate them most of the time. Which means I’m doing them wrong…

Spending 3 hours doing yoga today… who’s underemployed???