Sunday, October 16, 2016

Primary on Friday

Last Friday I practiced primary series again, that is  I did what was possible. From time to time I added a vinyasa. Kurmasana was intensive, but enough. I had to omit supta kurmasana. Several times I had to roll out my psoas muscle on the right side of my back. For the time being primary doesn't feel good. I don't want to lose all the asanas of primary and also not the vinyasas, but I see that it makes no sense to practice this first series of Ashtanga yoga. Pain is a good guide. The pain disappears faster than ever. Nevertheless it returns when I do all these forward bending asanas.

On Saturday I rested. Today second series is planned. I feel good again.

I should forget about primary for some time. I cannot find out what causes the pain exactly these days. Nevertheless it's there after primary. My focus must be second series and back bending, when I don't want to lose interest in that yoga activity I have to listen to my body.

Things happen, this back pain will hopefully make me smarter. Anything can always be learned.
The last years on the mat were great, I started appreciating the very early mornings. To get up at 5 am, before sunrise is fantastic. I want to get back to this habit. I thought I wouldn't be able to do it, but I started loving it. It's just a habit that becomes easier every day.

Yesterday I found a quote my Henry Miller in the book 'Henry Miller on writing', page 20: Every man is working out his destiny in his own way and nobody can be of help except by being kind, generous and patient.

My yoga journey goes on with a different gear. A lot is to explore again. Being attentive is more important than achieving goals.

Friday, October 14, 2016

How to teach Ashtanga yoga for the masses

Prem Carlisi, one of the very first students of Patthabi Jois was interviewed. It clears up a lot of things that are happening these days in the Ashtanga yoga community.
(To get to the interview, click on Prem Carlisi.)

For some time my theory is that this rigidness in the so-called 'traditional' Ashtanga yoga classes is caused, because more and more people want to practice this style of yoga. Individual teaching is no more possible. The interview assured this.

How to teach the masses is the question? 

1. It was new to me that the led classes were such an attempt to teach more and more people at the same time.

2. I knew from the book Guruji that a bit more than a decade ago the Ashtanga yoga students remained in a pose for 8 breaths. I learned from the interview that a pose was even held for 10 breaths.
I thought the number of breaths has changed because the practices were too long for the busy students with jobs and family. But of course the faster the students are through a series the faster new students can be whipped through a series. The reasons to breathe only 5 times are not caused for didactic reasons, but for economic reasons.
At my age (57) it is necessary to stay longer in a pose than only a few seconds (5 breaths) if I want to learn a pose, if I want to relax when in a pose. It takes more time than only 5 breaths till an asana shows an effect. To get into the pose for 5 breaths and to get out of the pose has almost zero effect. You have done it, that's it. Quick, quick, next students are waiting already............At home I work on holding the challenging poses longer.

3. If everybody has to do the same, it's easy to control it.
Who can remember hundreds of students and what individual exercises were given the last time?

4. Another issue are the teacher: The masses need teacher. Too many people pilgrimaged to India who have never tried an Ashtanga yoga class before. So Sharath decided that only those students are accepted in India in Gokulam if they can prove that they practiced 3 months with an authorized teacher. This is a bottleneck. Are there enough authorized Ashtanga yoga teacher around the globe? Yet I think this action was necessary. It helps to get the more series students to India and to reserve a place for them.
Years ago we already discussed the issue that too many students want to go to Mysore. A friend had the idea that only those who want to become a yoga teacher should be accepted. I didn't agree with this suggestion. I never wanted to become a yoga teacher, but I never want to miss the time that I spent in Gokulam with Saraswathi. I consider myself as a series student of Ashtanga yoga.
I see it coming already. One day only Ashtanga yoga teacher are welcomed in the shala in Gokulam.

I loved to read how Prem is handling newcomers. First they have to watch one day and then they have to enroll for one month.
How are newcomers managed outside India? Newcomers know nothing. This is OK. The teacher usually have to focus 80% of the time to those people who drop in often only once. In the meanwhile an assistant is adjusting the advanced yoginis. Why has nobody the idea that assistants shall teach the newcomers and those students who practice less than one year while the more advanced teacher can dedicate the precious time to the more advanced yoginis?
There remains a lot to reflect.

If one wants to become an authorized yoga teacher (from India authorized, I don't talk about these 200-hours yoga teacher trainings), it's good to be male, one must be able to perform the asanas of the second series, and one must travel to India every year to see Sharath.
To point A: There are only 17 authorized yoginis 2016 even though the female practitioners make 80% to my estimate. In India I saw more yogis than in the Ashtanga yoga classes in the Western world yet also in Gokulam the men are in the minority, but make more than 90% of the authorized teacher. Why?
To point B: If you are young and flexible and strong, it's very likely to get authorized. But my experience is that those who have difficulties to perform asanas are more likely to understand the poses than those who are flexible by nature. Those stiff and weak aspirants might even be the better teacher therefore. Karandavasana might be the pose why more men get authorized than women. It requires a lot of strength in the arms to perform this pose. Men are usually stronger than women.
To point C: Sharath wants to know the teacher and I understand this. He wants to keep up the lineage. Yet the conditions have changed a lot. Ashtanga yoga today is no more the Ashtanga yoga a decade ago. To keep the Ashtanga yoga community together is indeed a very challenging job.

5. I've never heard that anybody learned anything about didactic (how to learn an asana) in the Ashtanga yoga community before getting authorized. During the years everybody got adjustments, surely. But that's it. It would be too time-consuming to teach the proper adjustment in addition. This has consequences.

I want to give an example. I practiced also with the Sivananda community more than a decade ago. I was taught the headstand in one session.

Those who have seen the movie 'The breathing Gods' have also seen how B.K.S. Iyengar taught an absolute newcomer to yoga headstand in only one session.

In the Ashtanga yoga community, it can take years to learn this pose. If the student is lucky he finds an online video. In classes I see 80% of the yoginis with wrong arm position when they are performing this pose. Because of this some (the women) are not able to hold the pose and the other group (the men) can hold the pose because they use strength. Only few have the right alignment. The wrong alignment can always cause injuries especially if exercised daily.
In the meantime a lot of very good practitioners share their knowledge online. This compensates a lot. A big thank you to all the yoginis who share their videos online for the world community for free even.

Often P. Jois is quoted. Once he must have said that everybody can do yoga, only the lazy ones cannot do yoga. This might be true. But if you follow the rigid Ashtanga yoga program of today it's likely that you get injured or that you are stopped at a very early asana. Only primary is not a balanced practice. It's focused on forward bending. And to do Urdhva dhanurasana, this intensive back bending asana after more than an hour of  forward bending asanas is awful.

Home practices will be part of my yoga journey. It allows me to adjust the practice to my needs. I admit I have to work on my discipline. This is the very first challenge, Every single day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hanumanasana - back bending preparation

I consider to exercise hanumanasana even before ustrasana. I used to do it before the kapotasana attempts.

If an asana is difficult I try to understand the pose. I separate the different skills that are necessary to perform the pose. I observe different aspects:

These questions can help for a better understanding of a pose?
1. How can I improve the technique? Do I move into an asana correctly, i.e.?
2. Do I need more strength? If yes, which muscles need a strength training (perhaps even in an extra session)?
3. Am I flexible enough? What can i do to get more flexible?
4. How is the breath when I perform an asana?
5. Is the dristi correct?

I use my own pictures to analyze my poses. So I realized that it could be good to be more flexible in front of the hips when I do back bending asanas. Probably due to too much primary this part shortened.

Hanumanasana helps me to open this part of the body.

1. If one stretches it is important to relax. In the above picture I sit on a block. I challenge myself, but I don't go too far. I hate to overstretch myself. This would mean a set back. I could do the pose already without a block, but for the time being it's good to use it. I repeat this pose.
2. To engage the leg muscles helps to protect the body. It supports the stretching.
3. I move the hip of the leg that is stretched backwards, forward and the other hip backwards.
4. Gravity helps.
5. The pose becomes easier when the toes are pointed.

For me hanumanasana is the ideal preparation for back bending.

Also today I practiced. 75 minutes of asana practice is enough. I felt done after this. Strength is coming back, too.

Yes, yes, it feels good to practice. 

My home practice makes me independent. I'll cultivate it. It IS possible to be alone on the mat and to practice consequently and to challenge oneself. But sometimes I might prefer to relax and to take it easy. This is possible at home, too. 

PS: Ustrasana on the second picture is done after hanumanasana. The front of the body is parallel to the wall due to this exercise. 

Ashtanga Yoga - Half Primary

A happening. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

External clues are better than internal clues

I read a lot of books these days in order to close a huge gap. It's the 'how' to learn something not the 'what' to learn that interests me these days.

Many sportive people have a coach, who motivate the sportswoman. What is said in such a session can be effective or less effective.

If there is no coach or teacher, there is self-talk. This can be motivating or not. It can be effective or less effective.

One found out that external clues are more helpful than internal clues. An example, please have a look at the picture. 'Open your chest' is less useful than 'bring your chest to the wall'. 

(I know, the holy practitioners among us even prefer to think: open your heart.)

This is the work one can do. What is the external clue that helps me to get deeper into an asana?

The picture here is only 3 hours old. I practiced. It was not the early morning when I stood on my mat ready for the sun salutations. Too late I woke up and even with back pain. This is no longer an excuse. Back bending feels good, It helps to eliminate the pain. Amazing, but it is so.

After back bending I stopped my practice. It was enough.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

On home practices

I'd like to start with practice advice by James Brown, yoga teacher in LA, California. The quote can be found in the book 'Yoga at home':

Page 158: 
"- Regardless of the space you have available for practice, when you are on your yoga mat, you are practicing, and only doing that. When you can't bring that onto the mat, pause and find it.
- If you want to fix your attention, start by choosing something that actually gets your attention. Choose something that is uplifting to you."

Page 160:
"Shifting my habit to self-practice, done alone without external distraction, was like cleaning a pair of glasses that I didn't realize was dirty. Without the distraction of my ego dealing with the ever-shifting landscape of a group practice, I suddenly saw myself with new clarity: Once that happened, I was hooked for life. My home practice has cultivated a healthier and more accruate awareness of self than the one that I saw when practicing in public."

I like both quotes.
Almost my entire life I practiced alone at home. I had years when I could join a yoga class once a week. I wished to have the opportunity to go to a yoga class on a daily basis. And one day with the growing yoga community also in Munich Ashtanga yoga schools opened that allowed me to practice daily there even in the early morning hours. My joy was huge. I dare to say that I was one of the most regular students. A mistake. I'm injured now and this socrialiac joint is still not OK. My psoas hurt. Often I realize it after a practice. During today's practice I had to roll out the psoa muscle several times. So many poses are lost. This I have to accept.

Yoga is a concentration exercise. If anything got better during the last decades it's my ability to concentrate. I have no difficulties anymore to practice for 90 minutes. Nothing distracts me. No music is on, I want to focus on the breath. This is surely something that improved because I attended yoga classes.

My yoga week starts on Sundays with second series. Only half of the series is possible these days.

My plan for the next week:
- Strength training three times a week before the yoga practice.
- I add pranayama and meditation after the asana practice, exactly in that order.

I feel good. The body, the mind, the spirit, this unity jubilate when I practice.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Home practices - do I need a yoga room?

I practice at home these days. To find inspiration and motivation I bought a book 'Yoga at home'. Many, also well-known yogis wrote about their practices at home.

Almost all yoginis agree that a home practice is different to a yoga practice in a shala. It's good advice not to compare the two. To practice at home requires discipline. There is more energy in a classroom. Home practices are not worse, because they are mainly not so exhausting, they are different.

To practice alone allows to alter the practice to the own needs. It's easier to listen to the body.

My own experience is that it's easy to get up, jump into a train that brings me to a shala. It is/was like going to work. When I practice at home I need discipline. Being disciplined can help in many other areas in life, too. It makes independent. I learn how to learn. This helps me to find my own insights, my own stories with the practice.

Our homes are all different. Some yoginis live in countries with more room available. People who live in cities often have smaller homes.
Some yoginis use or have to use a tiny space for their practice, others have yoga rooms.

I don't have a yoga room and I think I don't need one. I also don't need an altar.
My props are in a drawer in the wardrobe. My yoga mat is in a corner, invisible. I put it away after the practice. My yoga practice always reminds me to create a simple life. I don't want to have so many things. I don't need an altar with buddhas there, flower, pictures of the Gods or whatever.....
I want to be able to practice everywhere.....

I saw it several times in yoga schools. First the rooms were empty and clean. After a few months or years more and more things were standing around. The rooms became messy. It was no more possible to use the wall as a prop because things were there. Some teacher were musicians and soon music instruments were added. It drove me crazy. Soon one had to remove all that stuff before one could start with the practice. At home with a special yoga room one can fall into the same trap. To stand space is difficult for many yoginis.

My priorities: A room must be warm and clean. I don't need a yoga room. The space should be huge enough so that I can fall out of poses safely.. Many rooms have multiple function. Whatever we live in that room all the things in it need a place. That's it. Simplicity is the goal.

I collected pictures of Indian yogis on Pinterest: What I see is my imagination of yoga. One can practice it everywhere. To have a body and a blanket perhaps is enough.

Picture is taken 7 years ago.

Friday, September 16, 2016


What will be possible?

This was the question that was in my mind when I stepped on the mat this morning. Second series feels better for me these days, so I focus on this series. Yet once a week I'd like to do primary.

Oh it was difficult to start and not to stop after the first two sun salutations. I switched on music and lowered the ambition.

Vinyasas are lost.
I practiced cat pose as a counter pose to the forward bending asanas.

I could put my leg behind the head, yes and I'm happy about it, but I had to hold it and it didn't feel as good as it used to. Yes, I see progress again. This is what I appreciate and I even thanked the Universe for the hope that was sent.

Only twice I had to use the fascia roll to get rid of the painful tension in the right psoas.
Tomorrow morning I'll be able to say if pain returned or not.

As ALWAYS, I never ever regretted to have practiced. I feel good. 

My motivation: This idea came up this morning and I think it's a good idea as I want to be up to date with all the technical stuff. When I feel ready I'll  film a session and show it on periscope.