Yoga: Poked Slapped and Kicked

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It took me years to get used to the idea that someone would come around and “adjust” my while I was trying to perfect my down dog or my half moon.

It didn’t hurt that some instructors were absolutely refined young women with a touch as gentle as a breeze.  I’m just the kind of guy that doesn’t like it that much.

I’ve gotten over it.

In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where I still don’t like it, but I appreciate it.  That guiding hand helps me refine my pose and understand the fine muscles that normally get ignored in daily life.

Along the way I’d heard stories about teachers from the old country (India) where such adjustments weren’t so gentle.  When a teacher wanted you to pay attention to between your lower shoulder blades, you could get a very sharp poke from a finger.

Or if your leg was turning out in tree pose, a healthy slap from the teacher reminds you to level the hips and push through the heel with your outer thigh while bringing the inner upper thigh up and in.

In a recent interview, I heard about one of the great Masters (BKS Iyengar himself) who kicked his disciple in the back while she was in headstand.  She remained poised and steady, and he congratulated her on finally “getting it.”

Why?  Why this brutality?  Why do some of these experts cause pain, while the nice teachers are gentle?

In the light of #MeToo, and with a little bit of psychology, there are other reasons it makes sense to guide students with an iron hand.

First off, it makes an impression – sometimes literally.  There is no ambiguity as to where the teacher is drawing your attention.  If it gets you off balance, that tells you that you’re not grounded enough either.  Even in a handstand you should be able to hold your position, even if guruji kicks you.  And you remember better.

Secondly, in the light of the so many complaints emerging from women who have been “man-handled” through the years, it removes another kind of ambiguity.

A light touch is often associated with attraction, arousal, and ultimately seduction.  If the situation involves a male teacher and a female student, the opportunity for drawing the wrong conclusion is high.

On the other hand, even if the most handsome teacher in the world slaps you on the back, or pokes you with a sharp finger right in your thigh, there’s less chance you’ll think it’s some kind of foreplay.

Do it right and feel your eyeballs vibrate!

So, if you’re caressing your students, think about the impression you’re leaving on them.

And if you’re on the receiving end of a sharp comment, appreciate it for what it means.  The teacher wants you to remember and get better.  No extra strings attached.

AUM….

Yoga: Abusive Teachers

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Yesterday my daughter tried out one of those “yoga” classes at XX Fitness.

She came back upset, even crying.

She’d gotten there a minute late, as she’s brand new to the place.  The “teacher” called her out for it.  When she didn’t understand his snide comment, he made another challenging her intelligence.

My daughter found a spot in the middle of the crowd class, hoping to be left alone to try and get a good workout.  Yet the teacher found her to be someone who needed special attention.

He chided her about her difficulty in getting into the contortions he was telling the regulars to assume.  He didn’t demonstrate, he didn’t guide   She’s not new to yoga, in fact she’s had some world-class yogi’s training her.  She knows what deep yoga is all about.  This class was nothing like that.

Summing it all up, he told everyone to put their legs up the wall, even though quite a few people were in the center of the room.  Then he played terrible tunes during savasana, talking to them the whole while.

We managed to settle her down a bit once she was home, but the experience unsettled her.  The next morning I pointed out that abusive males can appear any time, any where, and that if she had a weaker character he could have used her insecurity to prey on her.  As it was, we expect our yoga class to be a place of safety, a refuge from the normal crap of civilization.

Unity in Diversity. Unity against Evil.

I urged her to say something, anything, to anyone.  I don’t know if she did, or will.  So i’m telling you, my internet friends.  There are bad men everywhere, even in yoga class.  Don’t stand for it.  The other women in that class did nothing to help my daughter, nor did the other men.  Travesties like this will continue as long as the rest of us put up with bullies.

That’s not yoga.  That’s life.  And it won’t change unless we fight.

Yoga Boot Camp

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Sometimes I fantasize about leading a yoga class. To be clear, I don’t really want to, because there’s too many people to deal with. And all those problems!

Aummmmmmm...

Yet, every now and then, I imaging leading a class.  And my style of teaching is more like a traditional drill instructor. Maybe something like this:

“You are now in yoga boot camp!” I say.

“None of that spiritual nonsense for you lazy, good for nothing boys! (FYI, it’s a class of all adult men.) Give me a tadasana, for the love of mike, not a single one of you are doing it right. If you’re not sweating in 2 minutes, you’re doing it wrong. Stand there anyway, I’ll correct you later.

For those of you who don’t understand, we’re going to start with an AUM. This isn’t for you spiritual types, this is you shaking loose those things in your head that help you balance. You want to balance, don’t you?

I am not going to sit you on my knee and explain harmonics, musical vibrations, and resonant cavities. This is not physics class. You will give me an AUM, you will make it loud, you will make it proud, and there will be three of them. Understand?

“Then do it!”  Yes, that’s what I would say.

Anyway, imagine a whole class like that. Of course it would settle down quickly. A strenuous but short vinyassa sequence, followed by a couple of intense Iyengar style holds. Then a quick “master class” on a particular pose, followed by a few inversions, sarvangasana, possibly a restorative pose if we have time, then savasana (mandatory). We finish up with another 3 AUMs and that’s it.

Hurry, registration ends soon! Look forward to seeing you there. Remember, this is hard hitting yoga that doesn’t shy away from 8 limbs or anything else. This is yoga for the Iron Man.

See you there…
… in my dreams!

AUM

Yoga and Active Asana

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Getting into yoga means different things to everyone.  For most Americans, it means going into a hot room with lots of other beautiful people, moving about rather quickly.  Women in yoga pants, men without shirts, and lots of sweat.

For others, it can mean slow quiet movements, focusing on precise tuning of each muscle and muscle group so that internal stresses are in balance.  Sweat is optional, endurance and concentration are not.

However, if we go to what the original yoga master said about “sitting postures” it reads something like this:

I think...

And it made me realize something.

If I want to go for a long walk, or even a run…

Or if I want to jump rope, or do some crunches…

… I can still meet this definition of an asana.

Breathing?  Heart rate?  Concentration?

That’s right.  Up to a certain point, I can be doing all these crazy “aerobic” exercises and still be doing yoga.  Why not?

True confessions.  Let’s face it.  I’m a self-pusher.  I’m not happy unless I go a little bit harder, a little bit further, every time I exercise.  So after a while I’m not doing yoga anymore – I’m running, or jumping, or crunching.  And I’m probably grunting, breathing hard, and sweating.  Definitely sweating.

That’s not the point.  Even these non-sitting non-peaceful postures can themselves be yoga.  In point of fact, no single exact posture is called out by the ancient yoga masters.  Nada.

Everything we are doing today is an add-on invention.  And that’s a good thing.

So if you come up with an asana that works for you, use it.  Work it.  Own it.

As long as you can do it with precision, concentration, and peace, it’s yoga.

Enjoy it while you can, because the more you enjoy it, the longer you can enjoy it.

It’s time for me to jump some rope.

 

Folding Yoga

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Yoga and me get along great.  I’m into that whole 8 limbs thing, and the 10-ish commandments called yamas and niyamas.

Most of us get hooked through the asana part of yoga, that’s limb number 3.  The asanas are called poses or postures.  Their purpose is to get us to feel better, avoid future pain, and focus on ourselves so that we can look upon the universe with greater honesty.

It’s crazy, but true.  The more better you see inside, the more better you see outside.

Yeah, yeah, yoga is great and I feel all warm and fuzzy.  But is all a bed of lotus flowers?

Not always.  For me, the best flavor of yoga practice has the name of Iyengar, BKS.  He popularized a very precise and intense form of practice that emphasizes deep understanding.  I’m into understanding stuff, so it works out pretty good.  It turns out he was also fond of experiments and learning, and so am I.  I call him BKS because Iyengar is a caste designation, not a name.

His teacher was also his brother in law, and that guy was awesome.  He could slow his heart enough so people thought it stopped.  He taught every student differently.  He earned 8 doctoral degrees.  That was T Krishnamachurya.  I’ll call him TK.

Here’s my problem.

TK was big on getting things precise and using whatever he could find to help his students learn.  BKS took this one level further, and introduced the brick (blocks), standardized mats (I think), chairs, and, my personal least favorite – the blanket.

The blanket sounds great, but it’s kind of flaccid and floppy and fringy and dusty, at times.  It never sits exactly the way it’s supposed to, and when I touch it there’s suddenly ripples and wrinkles that magically appear.

Of course, a BKS trained instructor tells us the blankets must all be folded in a precise way for the asana.  Look at the instructor and follow her example.

I freak out, but try not to show any emotion.  Inside, I’m frustrated.  Every time I touch a blanket it turns into a bed cover.  The folds have to be in the right place.  The fringe has to be pointing the right way.  The segments have to be even.  The folding pattern has to be done in the right order.

Aaaargh!

I know, that’s not a yoga mantra.  But it’s part of my yoga vocab.

I usually solve the problem by waiting for my instructor to fix it for me.  She’s almost always patient and understanding.  I once explained that I’m folding deficient in fabrics, just ask my wife.  But the instructor just gave me “the look.”

It’s funny, because I’m good at origami.  But there’s something about that dang blanket.

Namaskar.