Thursday, July 31, 2014

Finding yog in my own yoga room

 "Practice, all is coming."

Not  too much  to report  today on the yoga  front  other than  some  asana  happened and  maybe,  just  maybe,   a bit  of yog.  On the philosophy front, I sent off my Aristotle and Patanjali paper to the conference organizer so  it will be read in Porto Portugal even though I won't be there myself.  (Portugal was just too much to swing after two months in Pune.)

Jeff and I both managed to sleep until   7  this morning  which was  great.  After walking Milo before  it got  too hot,  suddenly most of the morning  slipped away, but I did manage  about 40 minutes of hip opening before  the call of  pressing errands and work things  got too overwhelming.

I went to Pilates (first time  in  2.5 months).    It was really nice and mellow.  I can tell my abds have missed the work!   Then I met with Jaclyn Howell about possibly teaching some weekend workshops up  North at  Mind Body Yoga.     Then more errands.

However,  I did come home and spent two hours in my own practice hall.   

I know the  time  in and of itself isn't  the  issue.  Gulnaz' class  taught me  you can get a lot done in a very short amount of  time, but it  is a way  of  keeping the focus on practice. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

First day back on the teaching mat

I had a great time teaching Focus on Form yesterday. It was really fun to see people and begin sharing some of what I’ve learned this summer. It made me realize just how much I have learned !! Another thing I noticed is that I was much better at both observing and correcting. I could see more. I don’t have a really good explanation for why I felt that way. It could be two months of watching really closely as a student, watching lots of people in the practice hall, but it was something I did not expect. It reminded me of a time in a Gabriella workshop many, many years ago when she was asking us to look at one person’s pose compared to another and she said, “Can you see the difference?” I really could see it. Prior to that point, when someone like Manouso would ask us this, it was a more hazy prospect for me. That day, I was able to see. Yesterday, I could see more. It was very cool, but it was also something that I felt like was “happening to me.” I didn’t feel so much like something I was doing in an active conscious sense.

 In terms of willingness to correct, that definitely resulted from how frank, blunt, truthful the teachers in Pune are. They just are not bashful in the way we often are in the consumer-based west about “not hurting people’s feelings” or “not wanting students to feel picked on.” Also, watching Arun go around and systematically look at each person’s pose reinforced that necessity. Anyway, some shyness I had around that just vanished.  

satyapratisthayam kriyaphalasrayatvam

When the sadhaka is firmly established in the practice of truth, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to realization. (I)
When one is established in truthfulness, one ensures the fruition of actions. (B)

I’ve had a couple of days to look at what the obstacles are in my life that keep me from long uninterrupted practice. One I realized yesterday on the way home from Baylor.  (BTW,  it was really fun  seeing folks up there also. We had a good staff meeting and I enjoyed coffee with  Candi and Paul  and Maya and Ellie.)  Often, when I come back from a long day in Waco, I may want to practice, but I just succumb to the couch. So yesterday, I told Jeff before I left, that I’m definitely going to practice when I get home. Verbally setting the intention is important. I realized on the way home that the yoga is not so much the doing of the asana but the yoga is really not losing the resolve to do it during the day, particularly in that last 30 minutes on MoPac. So I kept reminded myself that I was going to do it. I did. Painful, post driving, but I did feel better after an hour of inversion and hip work than I would have if I’d just gone to couch time. (Happily, I really don’t have to deal with that particular obstacle more than a couple times before Jan 2015).

This morning, I found myself getting super hungry after an hour or so. Even though I probably had 1.75 hours to practice in terms of time in my schedule, I knew food was right in the kitchen. In the practice hall, I was hungry but there really wasn’t anything to do about it. Lunch wasn’t going to be ready until after practice time, so I just dealt with it. I think I’m going to have a smoothie or something a bit more than juice pre Milo walk and see if that gives me a bit more energy for a longer morning practice on the days I have the time.

I think three hours of home morning asana practice is probably an unrealistic goal, but I am going to try to get more into a two hour morning practice routine and then a class on the afternoons that there’s public class or practice (M W F) or another shorter practice in the afternoon on the other days.

I’m happy to report that my morning pranayama has been great since I got back, so I’m glad that was only a temporary Pune Problem.

Dad asked if I’ve been getting any writing done besides the blog. Answer: yes. I just wrote an abstract for a teaching conference. Here it is.

Producing Philosophy Teachers: Using A Graduate Seminar as Pedagogical Training
I report on an innovative approach to teaching a graduate Plato seminar. It focuses both on the content of the Platonic dialogues and on preparing graduate students to become better classroom teachers. I teach in a graduate program where the primary research interests of the faculty and the graduate students are in metaphysics and epistemology. The students often approach texts quite differently than I do as a historian of philosophy. In previous years, I have tried to bridge this pedagogical gap by encouraging students to write papers on aspects dialogues that bear directly on the contemporary subfield of philosophy that interests them. While I was reasonably happy with that approach, I still felt like students did not develop an intrinsic appreciation for the Platonic dialogues.
Unfortunately, there is almost no research on what makes for effective graduate level teaching and learning in the philosophy classroom. The journal Teaching Philosophy is almost exclusively geared toward the undergraduate teaching experience. I have found some interest in preparing the next generation of faculty in the work of Austin 2002 and Kreber 2001. Their work motivated me to think about how to restructure the Plato seminar as a professional development opportunity. After reading their work, I realized that most philosophers, regardless of research specialization would teach Plato in a variety of undergraduate contexts. Virtually every introduction to philosophy class deals with Plato in some way. Plato also figures prominently in Introduction to Ethics courses and even Philosophy of Religion and Critical thinking courses. Beyond that in small liberal arts colleges, faculty will be called upon to teach survey courses in Ancient Philosophy. I decided to capitalize on this dimension of the profession of philosophy. I developing a competency in teaching Plato a sub goal of the course. I did this is six ways.

1.     I drew our attention to pedagogical content of the dialogues
2.      I also explored the pedagogical style of the dialogues.
3.     I modeled how I taught various aspects of the Dialogues to undergraduates.
4.     I shared how the Socratic model influences my own teaching persona and my classroom strategies.
5.      I repeatedly asked the grad students to reflect on how they would teach Plato to undergraduates.
6.     If they were already teaching, I asked them to share their experiences with the other members of the seminar.
These practices made our engagement with the texts was significantly richer. We read the texts differently because we were reading them together as teachers and students of Plato rather than as a professor leading a class of students teaching them how to read Plato.
         For the interaction dimension of this presentation, I will use a short segment from Plato’s Protagoras as the basis for a small engaged reading exercise so that seminar participants can experience the value in uncovering the pedagogical dimensions of the dialogues for themselves. I believe this pedagogical focus in a graduate seminar would be applicable to many disciplines besides philosophy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One last bit on Arun, life update, and Castle Hill sequence

“What you have learned through practice, it is your duty to share with others.”

BKS Iyengar to Arun. 

The last morning with Arun was  great  (except for the fact that a brick fell on Jeff's  foot.  Luckily, he's okay. )   We  did more  backward  bends,  belly down and chair  variety,  a bunch of chair  twists and  several versions of  parivrtta janusirsasana.   The  twists  felt so  great!  Never thought I'd say that about twists. 

He  started off the morning talking a bit more about  the advice that BKS Iyengar gave him about teaching.    Part of that  advice,   “What you have learned through practice, it is your duty to share with others.”  Guruji   told him we can’t depend on what is written in books or  pictures, but our own  practice. 

Arun went on to share a story about his early experiences with yoga  in what I guess I would describe as  the  kundali  tradition.  He was quite a dedicated student, practicing a lot, he did public demonstrations, asking questions of his guru when he’d run into  various difficulties and the teacher told him  everything that  was happening to him was  part of the process of awakening kundalini.    Arun  said,

He was really living in bhrantidarsana

vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva       anavasthitatvani cittaviksepah te antarayah

These obstacles are disease, inertia, doubt, heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance, and backsliding. (I)
These disturbances are disease, idleness, doubt, carelessness, sloth, lack of detachment, misapprehension, failure to attain a base for concentration, and instability. They are distractions for the mind. (B)

 He then  studied with the first person who brought  Iyengar’s teachings to south Indian  and  then  finally  studied with BKS Iyengar himself  starting in 1978.  He then imparted a last  bit of  advice from Iyengar,  “Don’t listen to any teacher who tells you to keep your eyes closed.” 

  I found it quite interesting for many reasons.   First,  that  he shared  personal experience in the context of  teaching.  Second,  that he had teachers before  finding Guruji.   Third,  hearing more about  how yoga was practiced in the overall context of Indian culture  made me appreciate  the radical nature of what BKS Iyengar has accomplished.  

Arun also  said,   that   “We  have to practice a lot.”  So  that’s good advice on the  return to  regular life.  Keep practicing   a lot.    Thanks to  jet  lag,  I’ve got time for a good morning  practice.   I’m  teaching a variation on the first Ladies  class  that  Navaz taught in  June.  It also has some elements of  some Rajlaxmi work as well.  I practices some version of this  sequence  pretty much every  day in the practice hall.  

So  as I’m getting ready to teach my first post Pune  class,  here are the lessons  from Arun I have  in mind.

1.Come to the level of the  student.
2.Teach from what you know from practice.
3.Beyond that , you are obligated to share what you know with others.  This can include personal experience.
4.Don’t teach what you’ve learned from  books or  pictures.
5. Don’t  ask your students to keep their eyes closed.   

If  I were to expand further on  point number  five,  I think  teaching  involves teaching students  how  to keep their   eyes  opened. How to observe, reflect,  redo, re observe.    It  also  strikes me that it is important not  to  let your inner  teacher  tell you to go to sleep either.  Many of those obstacles to practice  are  internal obstacles of  the mind.  Doubt, inertia,  erroneous views, lack of perseverance, backsliding, 

Life  update.  Mom and Dad  said that they really enjoy reading the blog when I mention them,  so  here’s  a bit about them.   We had a fun return home dinner with them and my friend James  Saturday.      I took Mom for a  mani-pedi yesterday afternoon.   She went with lavender, a bold color  choice.       We  had  a nice happy hour at  their  place in the early evening.  Dad told us about  this article in the statesman about places that the chefs of  Austin go to eat  three of which they’ve already been to, it turns out.    Then  headed  home and  cooked a bunch of  greens from  our  garden  to go with some left over pizza. 

I’m off to Waco  today  to turn in  receipts for my trip, have a staff meeting, and  a coffee with Candi and her  daughter Maya.  I hope to make it back before traffic and  jet  lag  hits.

Okay,  here’s the sequence

Castle Hill  Class 

AMVira   descend dorsal spine. “Don’t be a turtle in the back.”
AMVira  press wrists down, lift fingers up  chin to floor. *
AM Vira  on little finger side.  
Observe differences 
AMS   hands and feet wide  come up on  toes  walk feet in slightly then descend heels.*
Utt  feet wide  hands on ankles  extend front body,  lift  toes.
AMS to  utt  a couple time like that. Working on getting extension in front body. 
AMS,  to UMS  several  times,  swing…
Utt hanging
Prasarita  upright,  half way with hands in  paschima badd,  then hands on hips  hands down   head down.  (press outer ankles down)
One leg in BK  one  leg in  UVK,    M1   foot  out   then BK  again. 
UVK legs wide   
Parsva UVK  upright  take  hands to  UH, turn with  hands in  UH then Parsva. 
UVK  get toes  go  down.
Dandasana    feet a bit  apart
Parsva  Dandasana UH  arms,  3 positions of hand. 

Three key words for twisting.    exhale and lift and  turn. 

AMVrk prep  belt elbows  feet at wall   L-pose.


Bharadvajasana 1
Bharadvajasana 2   same  work with wall or clasp if you can.


Halasana,  Karnapidasana


Monday, July 28, 2014

Teaching and Learning with Arun

maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam

Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent. (I)
By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind (B).

Day three with Arun was great. We did backbends in the morning and lots of seated twisting variations in the afternoon. His teaching of asana and philosophy had so many direct links with what we were learning in Pune and observing those links on my home turf so to speak, offers a nice opportunity to start the reflection and integration process.

I was particularly struck by several things he said about the teaching process.  He told a story about the first conversation he ever had with BKS Iyengar about teaching. Guruji told him that “you must come down to the level of the student.” How Platonic. The philosopher returns to the cave to lead others into the light. In this case, the light of yoga. Arun explain that is part of his teaching style in the demonstration. He stays a little while so he has the immediate felt experience of the pose as he watches us do it. He looks so calm, peaceful, and serene in the poses he demonstrates. Watching that gives us a tangible picture of the “equanimity, tranquility, serenity” that Prashant so frequently refers to.

The second point he made about teaching  involves the sutra I mentioned above. Arun said all of these qualities are important, maitri, karuna, mudita, then he paused, and said, “Upeksa, that’s the most important one.” But that indifference or equanimity is key. I think about that a lot in the context of philosophy teaching. You can only plant seeds. You can’t make someone think differently. So, too, asana teaching. That’s one I need to work with more.

As a student,  I appreciated  how much Arun explains the meaning and the reasoning for what he does. He isn't a "just do it" sort of teacher.   important part of the teaching. For instance, he does not do the second sloka of the Patanjali chant when he travels to teach. He said it does not make sense unless you understand and participate in the mythology that it invokes.

He had several examples of our western appropriation of these ikons that illustrate profound lack of understanding. Like putting images of the deities in the bathroom or even the image of Saraswati that Devon has up. There, she is standing on a book and Arun said, that must be a free form expression. She would not step on the objects that she inspires, or so I took his point to be.

I remember him talking about this a year or two ago as well. I remember thinking, what is a Westerner to do. We aren’t infused in that culture. Even if we have interest and we learn a lot or a little, how do we make those images meaningful to us in a way that is respectful to the context in which they emerge. It all relates to “everything has a meaning.” We should “know what we are doing.” I think that’s part of his “fascination” with T-Shirts. We often don’t even know the meaning of what we are wearing on our shirts. Or even if we do know, it causes a level of reflection about why I’ve chosen this particular shirt to express something about myself. As Jerrie said, “Choose your t-shirt carefully.”

It gave me a different perspective on all the “rules” in Pune. They seem like rules because we are outsiders from a different culture. The rules would just be integrated modes of behavior if we were of that culture.

Like knowing not to put Sarswati’s feet on books in a picture or books with the feet or with the foot wear outside class.

That Arun explains the reasoning behind things is quite helpful. Often, there are multiple reasons. For example, he also taught about the thumbs staying close to the other fingers of the extended hands like Navaz emphasized throughout June and July.

Her reasoning, which was a perfectly good one, nowhere in Light on Yoga are Guruji’s hand spread wide when they are in the air. Arun talked about it more symbolically. The thumb is like the atman joining the par-atman of the other fingers. Lovely. Both reasons are good ones and they aren’t in conflict, but now it has more of a meaning to me than doing it because Laurie and Navaz pointed it out. I have a glimpse of a deeper understanding.

Just on the asana level, he presented so many different ways of doing twistings, in bk and virasana and Amvira that made them so intense. Again, maybe it is that I’ve worked on the poses a lot this summer and am on a new edge of opening, but I sort of felt like I’d made no progress at all. I just felt stuck in my stuckness. However, I was palpably aware that it was really my mind feeling the stuckness of the body, the mind is what’s stuck.

Arun also modeled Prashant’s teaching about “do in such a way that learning is paramount” not just as a teacher facilitating that for us. But he asked about words that he didn’t know. Like my t-shirt was from a studio that CT and I went to in California last year. Yoga Cove. He asked what a cove was, and I said “a shelter by the sea.” He repeated it several times over the day. Apparently, he also learned what whining meant in Dallas.

“Learning is as much an art as teaching.” Arun illustrates the quote on that RIMYI T-shirt beautifully.

Well, we’ve got one last session with him this morning and then I’m on my own practice wise until Mary and Eddy in Dallas.

Come to the Castle at 9:30 tomorrow for Focus on Form. I’m looking forward to learning on the teaching side of the mat!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Surviving Re-entry with Arun

mṛdu madhya adhimātratvāt tataḥ api viśeṣaḥ

There are differences between those who are mild, average and keen in their practices. (I)
Even among these, there is further differentiation [of this intensity into degrees of ] mild, mediocre, and extreme.(B)

I've been thinking a good bit  about Prashant's interpretation of this sutra,  namely that we  should not get seduced into thinking  that  only "intense"  work matters yogically,  that  there is value to learning mild work and  moderate work,   I've also been thinking that's a bit of a trap too.  We can't let the mild and the moderate  keep us from pursuing the intense. 

I highly recommend scheduling yourself an intense  yoga  workshop  immediately after returning from Pune.  It is  a good way to navigate the withdrawal symptoms.  Also, are you really going to practice for 5 hours while battling off  jet lag? I know I wouldn't have. I might have done the jet lag sequence and upped my regular practice,     but as it is now I'm still swimming in the deep water and recognizing the value of it  in my  post-Pune life.

When Jeff and I were deciding about coming back on the 23rd rather than the 30th,  being able to go the the Arun workshop was one of the deciding factors.  Arun  is deceptively intense in the way that he works.  He is  masterful with his use of props as a means to get you to a deeper level than you would go yourself.   He's also quite funny, kind, and gentle in his demeanor which  works its own kind of charm on the psyche.

Not to mention the groins.  Wow.  Even more ways to work on Baddha Konasana and  Adho Muka Virasana,  and so many ways to get upside down over the chair.   I could really feel a "pay off" from the work I've done over the past two months, on both the physical level of being able to receive still more opening than my groins would have been ready for  but also on the mental level of being able to "Stay"   and also to be palpably aware   that there's so much more to do and learn and finding myself eager to keep on  finding the teacher within myself  as  Prashant exhorted us.  

On a more mundane  pay off level,  I tried on a pair of  Ann Taylor size zero jeans that I've just been keeping in the back of the closet.  I bought them in 2006 right after I lost a bunch of weight on Weight Watchers (not long before the first trip to Pune come to think of it), but  it has been a while since I've been able to wear them at all,  much less wear them comfortably. 
Anyway, it got me thinking about intensity and how to sustain it for myself.  Not  just in the work hard kind of  intensity but in terms of what it means to have a long, uninterrupted practice in the context of  regular life. 

Arun mentioned that we always have to practice for our particular circumstance even in the context of  group  learning.  We have to figure it out for  our  jati,  our desa,  our kala. 

jati desa kala samaya anavacchinnah sarvabhaumah mahavratam

Yamas are the great, mighty, universal vows, unconditioned by place, time and class (I).
[These yamas] are considered the great vow. They are not exempted by one’s class, place, time or circumstance. They are universal.  (B)

More later.  Time to go open the groins and  do a bit of pranayama.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Baddha Konasana and Breakfast Tacos - Post Pune Morning #2

abhāva-pratyayālambanā vṛttir nidrā

Sleep is the non-deliberate absence of thought-waves or knowledge. (I)
Deep sleep is that state of mind which is based on an absence [of any content]. (B)

Jeff and I woke up this morning around for  4:30.  Six hours of  uninterrupted sleep. Not bad.   Jeff said,  "Well, its almost time to get up for  Prashant's  class."   Arun  at  9:30  instead of the Ladies Class for me. 

In pranayama this morning, I worked a lot with the image that Rajlaxmi used of  slowing down before putting on brakes to stop in my Viloma 2 and  4  work.  I also sat on the chair with a buttock blanket lift as she showed and am continuing to use the  bandage for jalandra bandha work.   After the digital pranayama, I felt very free of the morning jet lag  lethargy.

This morning, I  mostly worked on  Baddha Konasana.  I weighted my thighs and thought of  Jenn.  Belted myself to the backward bender in BK and then reclined  like Anjanali taught me  and  clapped my thighs to the floor like Gulnaz taught.  I also worked on  My regular bolster sticky roll, brick sequence and the  Ardha BK,  Ardha M1  sequence thats a bit of a Manouso, Rajlaxmi combo. 

it is nice to have all  these new practice voices in my head mingling with the voices that have been there for many years.   Yet another way of thinking about you, yours, and  in you.

Then, I ran out of steam, so I had a totally fabulous bean, pappas and cheese with Dona sauce from  Taco Deli.  They are always  good, but  particularly good  after  two months of not having them.  

 I did not keep aloof from the pleasures of the breakfast taco, but I did decide to only have one.

parinama tapa samskara duhkaih gunavrtti virodhat ca duhkham eva sarvam vivekinah

The wise man knows that owing to fluctuations, the qualities of nature, and subliminal impressions, even pleasant experiences are tinged with sorrow, and he keeps aloof from them. (I)
For the one who has discrimination, everything is suffering on account of the suffering produced by the consequences [of action], by pain [itself], and by the samskaras, as well as on account of the suffering ensuing from the turmoil of the vrttis due to the gunas. (B)

 Milo and I are going for a walk.  There's time to write a bit of philosophy and do some calf mashing and suptas.

The upside  of  jet lag.  Lots of time in the morning! 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Back in Austin and a bit about Arun’s workshop

We landed in Austin around  3:30 pm Thursday.   It took a while to get through customs. (Apparently, Austin is in the middle of a much needed customs upgrade.) Mom and Dad picked us up (their Honda Accord  is a much nicer ride than the rickshaws we are used to)  and they graciously stopped at the Central Market on the way home.  Central Market  has a great deal more to offer that More supermarket.  Chips, salsa, goat cheese and mushroom quesadillas, goat milk, pomegranate juice, Mexican coffee.  Sharp cheddar cheese. (Also, basmati rice, Jenn.)   All the comforts of home. It   costs a great deal more as well. I’m  really struck upon  return this time about how much  things cost in the western world.  We pay a lot for the luxury of our life. Much cleaner and  calmer, but there's a cost for sure. Cost in many ways.

Happily, my friend James, who has been house sitting for us,  was still at our house when we got in and we ate dinner and  hung out with him for a few hours  which helped get us to the  9 pm  hour.    I  woke up at 12:45 am  tried to sleep until 1:45  stayed up until 4  then slept  until  7:30. Jeff managed to sleep through the night. 

This morning. I went out to pick up Milo at Ron’s  and stopped by Taco Deli      on the way home.  It is great to be back in the land of the tortilla and the land of  the GOLDEN RETRIEVER!!!!  

We wrote some,  unpacked a bit, and picked tomatoes. Because of the relatively cool weather, rains and the watering efforts of our neighbor, Charlie, we have a bumper crop of tomatoes and greens.  Very exciting.  

I also got to text and  talk with Christina who has been at the PW retreat in Durango.

Jet lag wise things were going okay until around  4:00.  Jeff ran some errands, I did some yoga  and we managed to make it to Arun’s  workshop at  6:00 which has now kept us up until 10:00. We are hoping to sleep through the night.

Arun  is great as always.  He asked about Guruji and talked some about Prashant and how there were intensives for study back in the day. He  explained more about the  intensive structure  and how groups from various countries would come in for 2 or 3 weeks.    Apparently, the whole raising the toes up thing  came about from a German student intensive where many of them had flat feet.  (It’s still alive and well in Pune this summer, maybe a lot of flat footed folks)  So having come from  two months  of  lift the toes up, pull the toes back, activate the arches,  it was quite nice to do something else with the feet. It is interesting to think that things were segregated by country back then.  Now,  one of the  greatest things about  going to Pune is doing  Iyengar  yoga with Iyengar yogis from all over the world. 

Arun gave a nice teaching at the beginning of  class about artha- purpose and meaning.  He said there’s a reason for everything that we do.  Why sit in in Sukasana,  why belt the legs, why sit on blankets, why focus on  where the hands are in  Namaste,  why chat.  Every pose has a purpose. 

If you are  going through  what’s going on in Pune withdrawal.   Check out  my Pune roomie, Jenn Kagan’s   blog.   Bryan Rogers  also posts  sequences on Facebook.    Jory Serota  also has a blog and  is posting on Facebook (though he has not updated his blog since June 20--  It's time for a coming up on month three post  Jory).   Also,  check out these photos from Andy Richter in Namarupa. 

If you are blogging about Pune, let me know  and I'll post your links.   Maybe I'll add a  blogs about  Pune side bar to

More later,  fading fast.