Your health, you’re in control. This new year I’m sharing what I know to help establish or refine your yoga practice – For a price that works for you…Read more here and sign up for a time slot.
Yoga asanas (postures) are awesome. Somehow, they’ve influenced many parts of my life. But, they are tricky in that they can quickly digress and become a source of comparison from person to person resulting in either ego inflation or degradation because of their somewhat superficial-ness. And that’s not a win-win situation. Especially nowadays with social media, I’m sensitive to how yoga gets represented. Many “yogis” regularly share photos of themselves in particular asanas. Upon viewing it’s easy to say, “wow, I’ll never be able to do that.” Unfortunately photos don’t show how deep their breath is, or other subtle nuances that got them there. It also doesn’t show that persons persistence to get up early every morning to take time for their practice while working towards what you now see. It’s easy to walk away thinking a yoga practice is all goal oriented and nothing else beyond that. An asana photo represents that person in a specific time and place in their life. It represents possibility. It represents practice. Yoga is a system of techniques to promote health, well-being, concentration, control, and lightness among other things. It is to be experienced. Not just observed.
To make sure we stay humble when using asana in a yoga practice and sharing photos of ourselves, we have to keep it real and show it all. That’s why I’m sharing photos of myself in a posture that my body currently doesn’t understand or is unable to do. I do have to say that I’ve come quite a long way in my abilities and mobilities, but I didn’t roll out of bed and nail it. It has taken work.
Here’s the first one: Agnistambhasana AKA fire log pose. A seated pose; two legs in external rotation with bent knees. In this pose, if you are sitting on a mat the shins move towards parallel to the front edge of your mat and the ankles/knees are stacked. For some reason when both of my legs are asked to do deep external rotation at the hip joint not a lot happens. In teacher training several years ago I become the example of the guy that could use a lot of props in the pose. I remember quizzical countenances appearing before me as they looked at the lack of “un-folding” into the pose.
I should probably practice this one every day, but I usually forget. Good luck!
Pictured above: myself in the top 2, and how it’s supposed to look with the legs resting comfortably on each other in the lower photo.
** Update – I did not find a yoga private partner, so I’m staying here in March. Maybe next year; thanks for entertaining this idea. -pierce **
In 4 weeks, a program starts in Chiang Mai, Thailand hosted by Blue lotus Thai healing studies of Chicago. It will delve into studying and practicing the ancient form of Thai massage and its different modalities of healing.
Paul Fowler, the leader of the pack, is organizing the trip. I know Paul on both a professional and social level, so I know that 1, the program is going to be top notch and 2, I’ll be in good company. I have always had an interest in massage and learning these skills will be great for me on a personal level, but sharing what I learn is what I most look forward to.
But, the thing is…while my schedule allows the time off, (sometimes not having a 9-5 with regular income, benefits, bonuses, health insurance, ice cream socials pays off?!) my bank account does not have the same flexibility.
The trip will cost around $5000 to pay for the program, airfare, etc…
Instead of using a kickstarter or fundraising campaign, I’d like to offer a deal: Pay for my trip in advance, and I give you one private lesson a week for one year. A private is valued at $100, and you’d be getting 52. Scheduling is negotiable, and the offer can be split between 2 people.
2014, the year of the barter…or pay it forward, really.
If you’re not interested but you know someone who might be, please pass this on! I teach all abilities, ages and “levels.” The privates must take place in Chicago either in your home or a neutral space. If you live outside the city, additional charges may apply. A contract will be written up and formalized.
In two weeks (Feb 15, 2014), this idea will either self destruct or I’ll be able to go by way of a generous new partner.
Paul Fowler and me!
As a new teacher with a few years of guiding under my belt, I’d like to make a few observations regarding the mindset of a new yoga practitioner. When I chat with people that have an interest in starting a yoga practice, either those that I know or those I’ve just met, often times they say things like, “oh, I’m not ready to take a class yet,” or “I’m waiting till I get stronger, more flexible” etc… Maybe you’ve heard this or are one of those people?
Using my own practice as evidence, I can share with you that it’s more of a mindset thing than a physical readiness. Your physical body is always going to be in some state of ill-preparedness. An ache, a strain, a cold, a stiff something or other. If this IS your mindset, then I will disappoint you early on and say: you will never be ready! The physical practice is gracious and hospitable. It is designed in a way in that it is wide, varied and totes modifications along the way to make it accessible to all bodies. The hard part is finding a teacher that doesn’t make you feel inadequate or is comparative.
There is no real “getting ready” for it. What you are actually brushing up against here is the mind. Your mind has a thought; a doubtful one. Your thought is repeated over and over and eventually it becomes real or truth. Its repetition created a story that you tell yourself. Is this not the definition of delusion? Developing awareness of mental patterns, either harmful or helpful, is a game changer, and a doorway towards more unlearning.
We all do this on different levels and in different situations. No, I don’t think you’re crazy. The yoga world is and can be daunting. From advanced postures shown in the media to chanting Om at the beginning of class, I get it. Maybe I’m a part of it too….the photos on my website could be a turn off for some. But really, these are just some depictions of a moment in time showing possibilities of bodily control, attention to detail, and rehearsed strength and flexibility. These photos show the result of a practice developed over a period of time.
So, what is it that will mentally prepare you to jump the “I’m not ready yet” hurdle? Is it establishing a regular meditation practice to observe the content of your mind? Need a buddy to wade into the murky waters? Or maybe you need Hans and Franz to pump you up? Part of the yogic path is to come face to face with your ego which you will begin to witness and have conversations with. Here, you can choose to either succumb to its demands, or acknowledge it as passing, like a stream of water. Creating healthy movement patterns in your body, and making the space and time for stillness really do allow you to start to see the frame work of your mind, which you can then start to define. Ever….so………..slowly, mind you.
Remember, I speak to you as a normal guy who trips, falls, and forgets to slow down for speed bumps, not as some all knowing spiritual guru. For me, being a yoga teacher means sharing my experience, and my experience includes the doubt and unknowing that any newcomer or beginner might face. Be comforted in your doubts and march onward so that you can transform them into confidence and useful knowledge for your life.
After traveling for about 2 months in Southeast Asia I want to share my experiences on maintaining a consistent practice amidst constant movement, potential lack of space and time, chaotic cities/buses/trains, and at other times ideal circumstances.
1. For me, I found that it was good to have a goal of something specific to do everyday. When I say goal, I do not mean practicing crazy yoga postures or experimenting with trying out a “new pose.” I was looking to establish consistency in doing something everyday that would be beneficial and supportive for how I was spending my time while both exploring and staying put.
An example: if I had the ample time and space (which was most of the time) I aimed to do Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward facing bow/wheel pose) every day. For some people this may be easy to get into without much effort-No big deal. But like a lot of the yoga practice, none of it has ever come very easy to me. Working up to this pose gave me something to strive towards and build on day to day. I thought this would be a good goal for me to keep a healthy and strong spine…so I could continue to carry my backpack with belongings in it from place to place.
Because of my vata (“spacey-ness”) that can be inflated through a lot of movement, traffic, sounds, excitement of what to eat for breakfast in a new city, etc…(the very qualities of travel), I would sometimes forget to do a prep pose that would be helpful prior to doing Urdhva Dhanurasana from time to time. Later I would remember that I did the prep pose the previous day in my practice. And that is why having a daily practice is compounding. It is building on your past experiences and carving out a new pathway. Maybe that is just my way of excusing my air-headed-ness, but I think it makes sense. Read more about consistency defined by Patanjali in the yoga sutras here.
Halfway through the trip, broken toe pose (kneeling with the toes curled under) became another addition to the regimen. A simple pose like this which can be quite difficult for many westerners is very common among people in the east. I often saw people in temples or pagodas in this posture. Midway through the trip, I was at a Buddhist ceremony for a girl who passed away while in Cambodia, complete with monks, nuns, locals, and the officiator who, during long chanting of orations was kneeling like this for quite some time, and he was in his elder years too. My mobility was in need of a challenge here. If you’re taking my class lately you may have noticed we’ve been doing it daily. I’m not a holistic health expert, but from what I understand there are a lot of links to the feet and general well-being. From structural in the legs hips and torso to the functioning of the organs on a deeper level. So keep those feet healthy and free.
2. Don’t be too goal oriented. This is true for the yoga practice in general…but it’s good to have a reminder; you want to do a practice that physically supports and opens/strengthens your body. You will be moving from place to place seeing and experiencing a lot of “new.” For this reason I did a lot of the same poses and warm-ups with variations from time to time so that I could have something of a home to come back to daily. I’m a pretty boring guy and if you watched me practice you might fall asleep. “Why is he moving so slow? Didn’t he do that yesterday? Still in Triangle???” I guess that would describe what I do. Nothing fancy, but hopefully well intended.
Jim Bennitt gave me advice before I left to do a practice that keeps you healthy. It was great advice. It’s not a time to “go deeper” or explore the unexplored for you. If you injure yourself or get sick, you probably won’t have anyone to take care of you. And you will need to carry your bag with all your belongings from bus to train to hotel to motorbike etc. Not to mention all the new food you will be ingesting. Keeping a general healthy digestion or agni (fire in the belly) is crucial to enjoying your time away from home. Having your digestive system in full normal operation is something that you will appreciate when in roam.
How to do this? Forward foldings (compression in belly), twistings, inversions, uddiyana bandha (suspension of breath after exhale – which draws the internal organs towards the back body), and back bending (expansion of belly)…oh and drinking filtered or bottled water too!
Considering that my daily practice was almost the same I would do some variations day-to-day if I “had more time” or felt the need to address something specific or a direction of movement in the body that I had been ignoring.
In Kampot I engaged in several raging games of badminton with what seemed borderline professionals that made my shoulder crying for mercy that night and the following day. My reaction? Do a practice the next morning that addressed and gave extra attention to opening my shoulder/upper back and neck. Badda-bing! I felt much better for the rest of the day. That’s what so magical about acquiring knowledge of the body/mind/breath connection and the ability to use that knowledge to directly affect ourselves and students in a positive way.
Generally my practice was:
Standing poses – moving and static
Counter poses: twisting and forward folding (also shoulderstand)
Seated stillness/concentration with or without pranayama (breath control)
I found that I had a difficult time sustaining a specific pranayama practice as the weeks went on, other than long deep ujjayi during asana portion. I think that with any pranayama you need to have a lot of stability in all aspects to be grounded enough to work with this powerful layer (kosha). Being that the breath is so deeply connected to our nervous system it is important to not overtax your system with any major breath variations and/or retention. Upon return I’ve been easing back into more pranayama practices.
3. Time of day to practice? For me in the past year or so, I’ve found that morning time is the best. It’s a way to wake up the body and mind intelligently, versus just blindly starting the day without any real focus or intention. It’s very obvious to me when I don’t practice in the morning. I feel sluggish, a bit cloudy mentally, and not authentic, especially if I’m teaching a class that day. You hear a lot of yoga practitioners and teachers talk about their intention or sankalpa. Cultivating a directed focus in the morning which is already so conducive to stillness as well as new-ness makes sense, why not. I would feel this way at times when there was no option to practice, like taking overnight sleeper buses in Vietnam where you would wake up in a new city trying to find your way to a bathroom, breakfast, and a place to stay (in that order) while being hounded by motorbike and taxi drivers to make a buck.
Other than that, the other reason I felt inclined to practice in the morning was to feel like I had a good reason to earn breakfast (and work through the previous day of ingesting). The BIG REWARD! I did it…ok now you have permission from your mind to fill your belly with delicious local cuisine.
There were a few times that I would practice in the afternoon, but I can count them on one hand. They helped for sure, but keeping the same time every day was preferable.
In packing/repacking my bag along the way I would always put my yoga mat on the top, so once I arrived to a new place I would open my bag, see my yoga mat, pull it out and have it visible in my room. The visual reminder was comforting and as well it didn’t let me escape that I’m in a relationship with my daily practice. Like you can feel someone is watching you from the corner of your eye.
I didn’t always have a lot of space. At times I’d have to move furniture where I was staying, practice outdoors, be subconscious and at the same time get over those thoughts if people were watching me. All things that let me work on the more inner yoga practice versus the external form. I appreciate having some tools to take with me around the world that help me feel less crazy and more focused.
Thanks for sticking around till the end of this passage and good luck on keeping up your practice wherever you are!
Lea sen huay (goodbye in Khmer) and namaste,
With fall in the air, and the movement of nature as it transitions in seasons – I will be doing a series of guided meditations based on the vayu’s. Starting Sunday October 28th for the next five weeks (till November 25th) in meditation class you will be lead through a different guided meditation for each vayu. It will involve mudra’s, visualizations, and specific mantras for each “wind” as I have learned them.
The vayu’s govern different aspects of nature and our bodies on different levels. Here is a brief synopsis:
Prana Vayu is energizing – intake of food, breath, nutrition, sensory impressions, emotions – Head and Heart
Udana Vayu is ascending – upward movement of food, breath, impressions, speech, exhalation – governs output of energy – Diaphragm/Throat
Vyana Vayu is expanding – outward movement of energy, circulation of nutrients, oxygen, mental circulation as well as exercise capacity – Chest/Whole Body
Samana Vayu is contracting/consolidating – absorption of food, breath, digestive process – Navel area
Apana Vayu is descending/stabilizing – downward movement of food, elimination, reproduction, grounding – Lower Abdominal/Pelvis
I hope to see you there. Feel free to use your udana vayu to tell others who may enjoy.
Classes are held at Moksha Yoga – West Bucktown location – 2528 W. Armitage #202 in Chicago – Right across from the delicious smells and sounds of 90 Miles Cuban Restaurant