Sun Salutations (i.e. Surya Namaskara) are a sequence of poses (asana) popular in Hatha Yoga for warming up both the joints and the core — among other reasons. There are a number of variations on this practice. The version I demonstrate in the video is common, and is often associated with Swami Sivananda. Below are a few points for consideration.
5.) Don’t forget the quad when in the Lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana): While stepping back and forward into the lunge position (ashwa sanchalanasana), sink the thigh of the backward extended leg down to get a stretch in the hip flexors and quad. This is commonly glossed over, missing a good opportunity. Secondary note: look forward in the lunge or at least not back and down between the legs (the latter suggesting excessive rounding of back.)
4.) Lift up into Plank (Utthita Chataranga Dandasana): If you have a valley between your shoulder blades, engage the serratus anterior, lift the torso up away from the floor, and turn that valley into a small, gentle-sloping hill. In other words, try to get the shoulder blades to come further apart.
3.) Place the ankle under the knee in the return Lunge (Ashwa Sanchalanasana): This is a challenge for many students depending upon a range of factors from flexibility to thigh girth to waist girth. It’s better to put the back knee down and use your hand to pull the lower leg into place than to try to stand up with the knee considerably forward of the toes. The latter puts a lot of load on connective tissues rather than transferring it down the length of the shin into the foot and floor.
2.) Keep hips up in “Knees-Chest-Chin-Down” (Ashtanga Namaskara), if you can safely do so: This is another challenging one for many students, particularly given the common nature of thoracic hyperkyphosis (i.e. excessively rounded upper back.) If one does have hyperkyphosis, one doesn’t want to force the matter. However, this does counteract that forward rounding tendency by stretching tight muscles out.
1.) Keep shoulders down and away from ears in Cobra pose (Bhujangasana): Unlike the previous common errors, this one seems to come down to lack of awareness or effort as much as it does to physical limitations. Of course, thoracic hyperkyphosis can also make Cobra challenging because the spine wants to bend the other way. I see students who have trouble keeping their navel on the ground and their arms bent because they have an almost “S” curve in their backs.
5.) Anything plank (a.k.a. adho mukha dandasana / santolanasana): Who knows how long planks have been a feature of yoga? Plank postures are a fixture in Hatha Yoga, playing a role in most versions of Surya Namaskara (sun salutations), and being used to both to build core strength and to prepare for arm balances.
Planks have also gained immense popularity with calisthenic practitioners. In my gym class days, sit-ups and crunches were the go to ab exercises. No more. Now many bodyweight fitness practitioners are ditching sit-ups and crunches altogether for a number of exercises deemed more effective–include many variations on the plank.
4.) Back bridge (a.k.a. Chakrasana): This is another yoga classic that’s being brought into calisthenics training in a big way. You may note a recurring theme in my selections for this post, exercises and postures (asana) that help to build shoulder joints that are strong, stable, and yet sufficiently flexible. This is a big challenge for bodyweight workout practitioners. One can get stability by bulking the muscles up, but if you don’t have the range of motion to achieve proper alignment, it’s not going to do one a lot of good.
3.) L-sit (a.k.a. Bramcharyasana): Of course, the other recurring theme (besides building shoulder stability) is core strength. This exercise is both a yoga classic and is probably as old as gymnastics itself. Its Sanskrit name, Brahcharyasana, means celibate’s pose–but as far as I’m concerned that’s purely optional.
2.) “Supermans” (a.k.a. shalabasana [locust pose]): Another core exercise, but one that strengthens the back muscles.
1.) Handstands and Handstand Preppers (a.k.a. adho mukha vrksasana): This practice isn’t just about looking impressive. As mentioned above, it’s hard to build shoulder joints that allow enough stability and range of motion to have the command of one’s body that one would like. Our shoulders are optimized to maximum mobility. That helped our ancestors to be awesome throwers of spears and rocks, but it makes it tough to support our weight in an inverted position. The handstand is a good way to build stability in the shoulders.
There are many books on anatomy for yoga, and I’ve read my share, but this is my favorite.
What did I like about it? First, Coulter examines the anatomy and physiology of breathing in some detail, and that’s an important topic that is overlooked by many others. A lot of yoga anatomy books stick exclusively to the musculo-skeletal system. Second, this book doesn’t mix science and pseudo-scientific mythology. Sometimes books shift from talking about arteries and veins to nadis and chakras in a manner that can be confusing and counterproductive. Third, the book discusses how postures can be safely varied for individuals with limits, as well as discussing the most advanced expression of postures for more flexible or skilled students.
What’s the catch? There must be a downside? Well the book is dense and it’s a challenging read. It’s not that the writer uses too many technical terms. That isn’t the case at all. In fact, Coulter is careful not only about using anatomical terms, but also avoids reliance on Sanskrit names as well. It’s just that there is a lot of material that one must read painstakingly while visualizing and–in some cases—tactically probing around one’s body (or someone else’s–if they’ll let you.) I don’t know that there’s much that could be done about this, given the desire to convey the material that the book does—and it’s valuable information. The book has a large number of graphics that mostly consist of anatomical drawings and photographs of the various versions of the postures. It’s possible that more graphics could have been used to reduce the amount of descriptive text, but—on the other hand—reading it slowly and carefully is a useful and productive exercise. And, if you’re not reading it for your RYT-500, you can take your time and read it section by section, as time permits, over the course of more than a year as I did.
The ten chapters of the book are mostly divided up by classes of posture (asana.) Chapter 1 is about “movement and posture” and provides the necessary background that one will need to understand the later chapters. Chapter 2 is on breathing–both the musculature involved and the physiology of it. The rest of the chapters are on core exercises, standing postures, back bends, forward bends, twists, headstands, shoulder-stands, and meditative postures, respectively.
The book has a glossary, a short bibliography, and two indexes (one by anatomical parts and the other by practices/postures.) I normally don’t bother to mention indexes, but in this case it’s useful to know because the book’s organization is by type of posture, and so it’s not always straight forward where various muscles or tissues are being covered.
As I say, I found this book to be tremendously informative. I recommend it for yoga teachers as well as intermediate / advanced practitioners.
The good news is that yoga can help one lose weight. The bad news is that the mechanism by which this occurs isn’t what most people expect, and it involves the mind a great deal more than the muscles.
While many people hope for a secret to weight loss, there’s no secret. Weight loss is a function of calories eaten being less than calories burned. This simple formula means that one can either eat less or exercise more. Both the diet and exercise matter for good health, but the eating part is more important to cutting weight. This statement may be controversial and seemingly gratuitous—particularly for people who think exercise is going to single-handedly shed excess pounds–and so I’ll take some time to try to make my point.
The first thing one should know is that our voluntary activity only accounts for about one-third of calories consumed. The other two-thirds are used whether we move a muscle or not. Between 20 and 25% of our energy consumption is devoted to our brain, and much of the rest is used to keep us at 37°C (98.6°F) because we are, after all, mammals. This means that increasing the intensity or amount of exercise—while it has tremendous health benefits—will achieve only a marginal increase in calories burned. From the Mayo Clinic website, I learned that a 109kg (240lb) individual will burn about 273 calories doing a typical hata yoga class or about 436 calories with Power Yoga. (Compare this to about 327 calories / hr. for tai chi or 654 calories / hr. for hiking.) So your hour of yoga has maybe knocked off a 32oz soft drink or one medium size French fries. Most people have trouble finding more than one hour of time and energy for exercise per day. And as someone who sometimes spends more than an hour a day exercising, I can attest that there is a point of diminishing marginal returns. So while exercise is an important part of weight loss, one can’t go hog-wild in eating just because one exercises.
[One should also note that many yoga practitioners experience a reduced basal metabolic rate (BMR) because of the calming aspect of the practice. A lower BMR means that you burn fewer calories just living and maintaining your metabolism. All things being equal, this makes cutting weight all the more challenging—though the effect is certainly counterweighted by the stress reduction aspect of the practice that will be discussed below.]
To summarize: unless you’re an elite athlete in training for something like the Olympics, the idea that you can eat whatever you please and cut / maintain a healthy weight is likely to result in disappointment. A common piece of dietary advice for elite athletes is to daily eat one gram of protein for every pound of ideal bodyweight and eight fist-sized servings of vegetables. Beyond that, they can pretty much eat what they want. But with that much slowly digesting material, they’re probably not going to go overboard—even if they weren’t already, almost by definition, very disciplined people.
So if an hour of yoga a day doesn’t even make up for having a Mars bar, what good is it? For one thing, the yoga student has the opportunity to become more attuned to his or her body and, in doing so, to learn to differentiate physiological hunger from the many other permutations of hunger that overtime merge into a multi-headed hydra of craving. What are these other hungers? First and foremost, there’s psychological hunger, or the use of food as therapy. People use food to reward themselves, to medicate themselves, to take their minds off of their woes. Secondly, there’s sensory hunger in which we have no real need to eat but the food looks or smells too good to avoid.
One of the forms of hunger that often remains hidden is social hunger. That is, one eats to be part of the in-group and to bond. For example, imagine you’ve just eaten, are not hungry, and someone offers you food. Depending upon who it is and what your relationship is that person, you may feel compelled to eat even if you don’t need it. The double whammy is that eating as socializing is so deeply engrained and that we humans—contrary to popular belief—are dismal at multitasking. We can’t converse and be aware of what we are eating, and thus one may overeat because one is so engrossed in the distraction of socializing. This isn’t to say that there is anything inherently wrong with social eating. We all have to do it to some degree or another. One just needs to recognize that if it becomes a habit to be distracted from one’s food, one may have problems.
Relating back to the idea of psychological hunger, yoga helps one destress. Stress can be a perfectly healthy phenomenon, but when it’s prolonged it can have many adverse consequences. One such consequence is having cortisol levels remain too high, and this has the effect of ramping up the appetite. Your body has been pressed into fight or flight mode, it expects that you’re hauling ass away from a sabretooth tiger or an angry woolly mammoth mamma, and that you’ll soon need to replenish depleted energy stores. Your endocrine system doesn’t know that you’re curled up on the couch with a pint of ice cream… yeah, let’s call it a “pint.” As a form of exercise, yoga helps reduce this problem. However, beyond exercise, yoga offers many relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra, kaya sthairyam, restorative postures, and some forms of pranayama(breathing exercises) that can help you turn off the “fight or flight” and turn on the “rest and digest”—what Herbert Benson called the “relaxation response.” Sometimes you might delve into an intense practice like Ashtanga Vinyasa or Power Yoga, and other times restorative yoga might be just what the doctor ordered. [Disclaimer: “What the doctor ordered” is a figure of speech. I’m not a doctor, and I haven’t even played one on TV.]
There is yet another way in which yoga can help. Yoga helps one dispassionately observe one’s drives and this way one can slowly, over time, rewire one’s attitudes toward food. One can begin to think of hunger pangs as a sensation, rather than projecting a negative connotation onto them. In this way, one can learn to begin to watch the sensation and learn from it rather than running for the food.
Finally, an important benefit of yoga is in teaching one to be contented with oneself, even if one isn’t content to live with one’s present health or physical capability. Santosa is one of the niyama, and it teaches one to be content with who one is–perhaps even while one is simultaneously practicing the austerities of tapas (another niyama) in pursuit of personal development. If one isn’t contented with oneself, one can fall into a shame spiral that may create the kind of persistent stress that I warned about above. Also, if one is at a healthy weight, but has some deep-seated drive toward “perfection,” the lessons of santosa can inform you as well.
Best of luck in the pursuit of good health.
Last week I attended a five-day workshop on pranayama, the breathing exercises practiced in hatha yoga. (Yes, I’m aware that that definition may be a radical oversimplification to many.)
Breath is like water. It’s easy to take for granted as long as it’s unimpeded, but the moment it’s cut off life is miserable–not to mention short. (If you’ve never been at an altitude that your body wasn’t adjusted to, this may not seem profound, but trust me.) We reduce breath to an autonomic function–mindless and effortless. It’s easy enough to do this if one doesn’t have an interest in getting control over one’s emotional life or one’s health.
FUN FACT: Exhalation inhibits the firing of the amygdala–two structures in the brain that are partially responsible for our experience of fear. Ergo, elongating exhalations may diminish the expression of fear. [This isn’t a fact that I learned at the workshop, but was something I recently read in the book Zen and the Brain, which is a neuroscientist’s explanation of the nervous system and the effect of meditation on it.]
The workshop was educational and offered plenty to work on as I expand the pranayama portion of my practice. Here are a few of the takeaways I brought from the workshop:
1.) There’s a thorough system of classification of the various pranayama practices. This might seem self-evident, but it’s not something I’d thought of before.
Classification begins with the tree above, but there’s much more to it. For example, one might group practices lying under the “without mantra” box as vitalizing (e.g. Bhastrika) or tranquilizing (e.g. Sheetali/Sheetkari.) One can also classify pranayama by whether there’s a retention of breath or not, and–if so–whether the retention is done with air in (Antar Kumbhaka), air out (Bahya Kumbhaka), or both (Sahit Kumbhaka.)
2.) [Related to lesson # 1.] Some of my favorite pranayama aren’t necessarily considered pranayama. Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is classified as a shatkarma (cleansing practice) rather than a pranayama by many. Furthermore, some think of kapalbhati (forced exhalation breathing) more as a shatkarma–though many accept that they can be classified either way. Certainly, it’s more important that you do it than put it in the right box, but I found it interesting nonetheless.
3.) Ghee is to yogis as duct tape is to a handyman. It’s a readily available multi-purpose tool. But seriously, I learned that hot milk and ghee–for some reason–have different characteristics in the body than regular cold milk. One wants to minimize mucus producing foods when one does a lot of pranayama for obvious reasons. (Blowing snot bubbles is neither dignified nor sexy.) So it came as a surprise when ghee and warm milk were suggested foods. (Milk, when taken cold, is about as mucus-producing a food as there is.)
4.) I learned why I can hold my breath so long after kapalbhati (or bhastrika) breathing. (Kapalbhati is a breath in which the exhalation is forced out; in bhastrika both the inhalation and exhalation are forced [pumped]–i.e. these are hyperventilating breathes.) I noticed a while back that as I practice kapalbhati, doing internal retention afterward was easy to hold for a long time. This is probably one of the most counter-intuitive facts I’ve experienced in practicing breathing exercises. The body has shed a bunch of carbon dioxide and has time and capacity to build up more without the body responding severely. It should be noted that the feeling of suffocation what we experience as being “short on breath” isn’t a lack of oxygen. It’s an excess of carbon dioxide. [One should also note that the reason that one needs to exercise great caution and graduality with these breathing methods–i.e. the reason that people have been known to pass out–is that the body reacts severely to carbon dioxide levels that are outside the appropriate ranges.]
5.) Diet is considered more important in starting a pranayama practice than in starting an asana (postural) practice. The basis of this statement is that one of the most prominent hatha yoga manuals (e.g. Hatha Yoga Pradipika) recommends dietary considerations for those beginning a serious pranayama practice, but it makes no similar statements with regard to beginning an asana practice. This doesn’t mean that what / when one eats isn’t important for postural practice. Anyone who’s ever eaten a heavy meal too close to an intense asana practice will know that it’s not true that food is irrelevant for asana practitioners. However, there seems to be a belief that many specific foods can be quite detrimental to pranayama practice–and a few really mesh well with such a practice.
FUN FACT: Conscious breathing stimulates the Vagus nerve, and the Vagus nerve is crucial in the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS)–i.e. advancing the “relaxation response” or “rest & digest” functions. Therefore, conscious breathing practices can help one to be healthier because PNS activity supports healing functions.
6.) There’s an established sequence of advancement that can be used across many different breathing exercises. One will see breath ratios that consist of up to four numbers. (e.g. 1:1 means that inhalation and exhalation are the same length (whatever that length may be, it will vary by person); 1:2:1 means that one internally holds the breath for twice as long as one does the inhalations and exhalations; and 1:1:1:1 means that one will inhale, internally retain, exhale, and externally retain all for the same length.)
Note: the counts that those numbers represent can and should increase over time–e.g. a 1:2:1 ratio may represent a six count inhalation/exhalation with a twelve count retention or it could be an eight count inhalation/exhalation and a sixteen count retention.
The aforementioned sequence is 1:1, 1:2, 1:1:1, 1:2:1, 1:2:2, and 1:4:2.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a handy anatomy reference for yoga teachers and practitioners. The bulk of the book describes major muscles, or—when relevant—muscle groups. For each of the key muscles it gives the insertion, origin, innervation, agonists, synergists, and depicts the muscle in color drawings. The book also shows typical yoga postures in which the muscle is engaged or stretched. This gives one some idea of how the muscle is affected by changes in attitude and state of contraction.
True to the title, this isn’t a general anatomy and physiology book for yoga. It specifically deals with the muscular system. That being said, it does have some opening matter on the skeletal system, the various types of joints, and other fundamentals that one must understand to grasp how muscles create movement and change bodily alignment. It also has a few brief chapters at the end that deal with important issues like breathing and bandhas. However, if you’re looking for a book with substantial coverage of the anatomy and physiology of breath or nervous system activity, you’ll likely need to look elsewhere. The book also addresses the concept of chakra, which seems out-of-place in an otherwise scientific book, but it will be appreciated by those who view the body in that way and is easily enough ignored for those who want a strictly scientific presentation of material.
While the book is limited in its focus, it does a good job of giving a lot of information in a concise fashion. The graphics are easily interpreted and one can readily distinguish the muscles in question. I found the book to be well-organized and easy to use.
I’d recommend this book for any serious yoga practitioners, particularly teachers and those who need to be concerned about the minutiae of movement and alignment.
2014 will be our first full year living in India. Having said that, I spent almost 50 days in Thailand, and Lilla and I will spend the last two weeks of the year in Hungary. So, in truth, I will have lived about ten months of 2014 in India.
The four months of 2013 that we lived in India largely involved acclimating and getting our feet under us, though we did see some important sights in India including the Taj Mahal, Delhi, Fatehpur Sikri, Hampi, Mysore, Belur, Halibidu, and Shravanabelagola.
2014 was an interesting and learning-intensive year, so I’ll review some of the year’s key happenings.
From the 1st through the 18th, I was in Phuket, Thailand. Lilla and I spent the holidays there, and–upon her return to Bangalore–I stayed another couple of weeks training at Tiger Muaythai. Tiger is probably Phuket’s largest and most well-known Muaythai gym. In addition to Muaythai classes, I took advantage of their broad class offerings to learn a little about Krabi Krabong, Muay Boran, Western Boxing, Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jujutsu, as well as taking daily Yoga classes. I was particularly keen to learn about Muay Boran, MuayThai’s more combative ancestor art.
While my training schedule (up to six hours / day, 6 days a week) didn’t allow for much sightseeing, I did get to see a little of Phuket Town and a couple of the beaches that Lilla and I skipped while we were traveling together. Phuket displays a lot of Chinese influence and there are many brightly colored Taoist, Confucian, and Chinese ancestral shrines and temples around Phuket Town. Rang Hill overlooks the island’s main “metropolis”, and I was able to take advantage of that vantage point. The beaches I visited were Karon and Kata which were middling between the two beaches Lilla and I visited together. That is, they weren’t as quiet and secluded as Naiharn, but neither were they as frenetic and overrun as Patong.
February was marked by two firsts. First, I began taking classes in Kalaripayattu two mornings a week. While this Indian martial art is far afield of the Japanese art I was raised on, I wanted to take advantage of living in India to learn something of the indigenous martial arts. One reason for my interest is the widespread belief that Indian martial arts—and Kalaripayattu specifically—are ancestors to many of the Asian martial arts–including the Chinese martial arts that are said to be predecessor to the Japanese arts I’ve studied. While I’m somewhat skeptical of that claim, I’m not in a position to altogether dismiss it. (I believe that in the face of combat, martial arts evolve rapidly to adapt to local conditions and needs. Also, I believe that ancestral arts continue to evolve as much as their off-shoots. Together this means that a martial art could look quite different from its ancestor in short order.)
The reason I’ve kept training is that Kalaripayattu is an awesome workout. I see a two-fold strength in the art. For one thing, it builds bodily capacity. I mean one is able to leap higher, stretch farther, and endure more through the practice of this art. I’ve realized that the idea of a martial art solely as a means to ingrain movements that worked in the past is limited. Another thing that the art does is help build a variety of fearlessness. One has to throw one’s body around in a ways that can be intimidating, and one must build confidence that one will—like a cat—land on one’s feet. Further down the line, the metal weapons practice—choreographed as it may be—takes a special kind of inner calm. By “further down the line” I mean—as of this writing–I haven’t yet begun to learn weapons. I’ve passed through the first two levels and it’s been suggested that it might be time for the third test (though I’m far from skilled with some of the required jumps), but these levels are all unarmed.
The second activity I began in February was volunteering that the Don Bosco Mane Center, which is home and bridge school for young boys in central Bangalore. (A bridge school is a school used to prepare kids to go to regular public school, which is what they try to do a soon as possible, but some of the kids haven’t been to school and aren’t ready to leap in at the appropriate grade level.) BOSCO is one of the major charities working on children’s issues in Bangalore, and particularly in trying to intercept kids coming into the bus and train stations before the pimps and slavers get their hooks into them. They also run a help / reporting phone line. If it’s possible, they try to get the kids back to their families, but if that’s unsafe or impossible the children live at one of the centers like Mane.
BOSCO also has a person trying to match kids to foster homes. Foster homes are a relatively new and undeveloped approach in India as compared to the West, but–as it’s a much better approach when it works—they’d like to see more of it. I volunteered here over the course of two months, before I started Yoga Teacher Training. Because I was only volunteering one day a week, and given the nature labor costs in India, they weren’t always sure what to do with me. Such a facility in the West would probably tend to be much more undermanned, but that didn’t seem to be so much the problem here as the challenge of funding and resources. At any rate, I have talked to the head priest about going back to teach martial arts and /or yoga. It was amazing to see how well-adjusted and respectful the kids were, given the hard life they’ve had.
March wasn’t a big month for travel or new experiences. Lilla was in the middle of her busy season, and I continued learning Kalaripayattu and volunteering at BOSCO. Otherwise, I was writing or working out. I’ve been keeping my Gyokko-ryū koshijutsu and Kukishin-ryū jōjutsu training going as much as I can, and work on Muaythai as well. As part of my yoga training, I started doing yoga with Lilla three mornings a week (this began in January or February), and—after going through yoga teacher training—this will become a regular class that I teach MWF from 7 to 8am. I attended about four studio sessions a week at a1000 Yoga in Indiranagar during March.
We did take one long weekend trip at the end of the month. We went to Coorg and stayed a couple of nights at a coffee / tea plantation near Madikeri. We stopped along the way to visit the Namdroling Monastery, which is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery set up by exiled Tibetans in the early 1960’s. It’s one of the largest Tibetan communities in South India, and is the largest teaching center for the Nyingma sect of Tibetan Buddhism in the world. The monasterial campus was impressive.
The serenity of the plantation provided a welcome respite from the horns and chaos of Bangalore. The Golden Mist Plantation is owned by a German who spends part of his year in Germany and part of the year in Coorg. Interestingly, they sell only organic products, which they largely export because organics are just beginning to catch on in India and not at the same scale as in Europe and other parts of Asia. The food was great, and—needless to say—the coffee and tea were fresh as can be. We had a couple nice hikes in the Coorgi countryside, and I had authentic Coorgi pork—that’s a popular Indian dish from these parts.
April saw me begin my 200 hour yoga teacher training course (RYT-200) at a1000 Yoga. This course ran about 4 hours a day for five days a week through May 23rd. The first hour and a half to two hours each day was yoga on the mat, and then we got into a broad range of subjects dubbed “theory” in the afternoon. These included yogic philosophy, Indian approaches to the body (chakras, nadis, granthis, kundalini, koshas, prantas, etc.), Western anatomy and physiology, and the historical development of yoga. The most unusual practice we learned was jala neti, in which one pours warm salt water in one nostril such that it drains out the other, cleansing the nasal passages. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and—given the dustiness of India—it’s a valuable skill to stave off sinusitis. Most of the course was about learning yoga, but the last week focused on learning about teaching.
The RYT-200 course occupied most of my time during this month as well. Even after the course ended on May 23rd, there were many requirements to be met and they all had to be documented. This included seva, which was charitable teaching requirement that we did at another of Bangalore’s (unfortunately) many orphanages. This was a smaller shelter than the BOSCO center, and was run by an individual man rather than a large organization. Again, the kids were enthusiastic and well-behaved and made the process a happy one. I also had class observations to make as well as documenting my own teaching experiences from the guesthouse class and sadhana (my personal practice.)
At the beginning of May, I completed a workshop in Tok Sen. Tok Sen is a Thai approach to massage that uses a mallet and a wooden chisel-shaped tool. While it sounds less than pleasant, it’s actually quite enjoyable. I had no idea what to expect besides that it was a Thai approach to body work that used wooden tools.
Toward the end of the month there was a Kalaripayattu demonstration. This was the first time I’d seen the art practiced besides in Kalari sessions. Needless to say, it was much more acrobatic and stunning than day-to-day training. It featured many weapons, including the urumi, which is a four to six-foot flexible sword that old-time practitioners wore as a belt. Urumi demonstrations are about as edge-of-the-seat as one can imagine. While the demonstration is choreographed, the urumi is a severe injury waiting to happen. It requires the utmost attention on the part of both participants.
June was an intense month for my yoga practice. In addition to my own personal practice, which I was still documenting for my RYT-200 certification, I was attending 5 to 7 studio sessions per week. I was also able to do some refresher training with my Thai Yoga Bodywork teacher as he was running the Level I and II course in Bangalore, and I attended a few days.
In July I finally got my RYT-200 journal in and accepted, completing the requirements for a RYT-200 Yoga Teacher certification. Through the first half of the month, I was largely working on finishing up the last of the requirements and typing it all up into a 54 page account of my yoga life (not even double-spaced) since the courses beginning including my teaching, personal practice, observation of master teachers, etc.
We made our first trip to Kerala, another of the states in south India—bounding the Arabian Sea. We overnighted on a houseboat in the backwaters, got our first Ayurvedic massage, stayed at a resort in tea country, and toured the historic Malabar spice capital of Kochi (Cochin.) We were very fortunate with the weather in that we visited Kerala during the heart of rainy season, but stayed dry for the most part.
Our houseboat stay was great. Our cook was skilled and the meals were outstanding. Chugging through the backwaters, I felt like a young Martin Sheen heading into the jungle to track down a rogue Army officer who became a cultist chieftain. Except that there was so much life and the ubiquitous Indian flare for color and sound. We got to see a snake boat crew in training, and saw so many colorful houses ornamenting the lush dikes—usually with verdant rice paddies as a backdrop.
Ayurvedic massage was an unusual experience. It was the most oily I’ve ever been. Days later I felt a little like greased pig. It took place on a massive hardwood slab that had a channel carved through the middle to keep the oil from sluicing over onto the floor, an event that would cause the most skilled masseuse / masseur to slip fatally. The table looked a little like an autopsy table carved out of hardwood. It was a very impressive looking piece of furniture and not the least bit comfortable on one’s bony parts.
Munnar, amid the tea plantations, was green hill country and the low hanging clouds and vast expanses of tea bushes made it a scenic wonder. There were also some waterfalls in the area. It was misting part of the time we were here, which brought out the full jungle feel.
Kochi is an enigma: ancient and modern, small but global. Its history is shrouded in the mists of time. It’s been an important center of commerce since who knows when. While trade with Arabs, Jews, and Chinese are all well-documented, it’s said that this port was familiar to the Greeks and Romans as well. When spice was king, Kochi ruled.
Lilla and I attended a yoganidra workshop this month. Yoganidra literally means “yoga sleep” and it’s a relaxation technique in which one maintains a state that is neuro-electrically like being on the edge of sleep. As you may know from visions that pop into your head right before sleep, those dreamlike random fragments that don’t make a lick of sense, this is a fertile state for the subconscious mind.
My second visit to Thailand took place in August and September. I left out on the August 20th and returned on September 17th. From the 20th to September 3rd, I was training at the Muay Thai Institute (MTI) in Rangsit, Thailand. This involved training four hours a day—i.e. two 2-hour sessions. Unlike Tiger, which offered a wide range of classes, MTI specializes in Muaythai and all my training time was devoted Muay Thai. (At Tiger I generally trained one Muay Thai session per day and one other session in boxing, grappling, or muay boran.) I was in the freestyle tract, and had a well-rounded experience of footwork drills, bagwork, pad drills, shadowboxing, and a bit of sparring.
While I was training at MTI, I took one day trip with other trainees to play paintball, ride ATV’s, and go rafting. This also involved stops at a couple of temples at Ayutthaya, one of which I’d visited on my 2012 trip and another which was new to me. The one I’d visited before is Wat Mahathat, which famously appears in Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Kickboxer movie. Wat Mahathat is particularly famous for a Buddha head that’s enveloped by Strangler Fig roots.
I also took a boat trip around Koh Kret, which is an island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River—i.e. the river that runs through Bangkok. Koh Kret has a popular market and is known for certain unusual street foods like fried flower petals. The only other place I visited during training was the J.J. Market, Bangkok’s sprawling weekend market where one can buy everything from pets to artworks to cheap tsotchkes to Louie Vattan (that’s how it’s spelled there) purses to street food. I’d been once before in 2012, but still got lost in its maze-like corridors packed with goods.
After I finished my second training week at MTI, I moved into Bangkok to a guesthouse in Chinatown. This was a short walking commute to the Wat Po Thai Traditional Massage School where I completed the General Thai Massage course and the Foot Massage course. These courses were each 5 days long, and the first one is a prerequisite for just about everything at the Wat Po School.
In the morning I would work out in one of two nearby parks frequented mostly by elderly fitness-buffs doing tai chi, chi gong, takraw, or Jianzi (the latter two being hacky-sack like games played with a woven ball [Thai] or a feathered weight [Chinese], respectively.) On several occasions I went to the Thai Yoga (Russi Dutton) classes that were run inside the temple grounds. Then I would go to class for the day. The General Thai Massage sequence was gradually taught by parts defined by position (supine, side, prone, and seated), and it was not so different from the Chiang Mai style I’d learned in Bangalore. With the Foot Massage course, we began doing the entire sequence from the very outset, which meant one got to practice it about 10 times over the course of the five days.
I was glad to visit Wat Po this time, as it’s the most important Bangkok sight that we missed during our 2012 visit. I also made it across the river to Wat Arun. I also made a trip across the river to a popular seafood restaurant on the edge of town with a group of fellow students from my General Thai Massage Course. With the same of Thais and Germans, I had dinner at the top of the tallest building in Thailand, the Baiyoke Tower.
After I returned to Bangalore, there were two small events of note. I attended a function for the children at the KAMMS put on by Lilla’s firm, Grant Thornton, which is the third youth shelter /orphanage I’ve visited. This was the largest group of kids I’ve seen, because, unlike the other shelters, it was both genders and a wide-ranging age group. Again, the kids were very pleasant to be around.
I attended another Kalaripayattu demonstration. This one was out of town at the Kalari Gurukulam, which is the parent school to the Kalari Academy where I’ve been attending classes. This would not be noteworthy except that I was briefly interviewed by a Canadian film crew who were making a documentary about old martial arts in Asia. They’d previously interviewed the Master of Bokator in Phnom Penh, and were making their rounds through the rest of Asia. (I almost visited that same school in Phnom Penh in 2012, but our limited time didn’t allow it. There was a time when it looked like moving to Cambodia might be a possibility.)
The big event in the month was our 20th wedding anniversary.
Our big trip this month was to Mysore for the Dasara festival. We took the train, our first Indian train ride. Mysore is a city that’s only about an hour and a half away from Bangalore. While it’s much smaller than Bangalore, it’s also more popular with tourists and travelers than Bangalore because of its history as a long-standing capital of the Wodeyar Kingdom and as a global center for yoga. It’s a yoga mecca because it was the home of T Krishnamacharya, who was the guru to some of the most famous yogis of the modern era, including B.K.S. Iyengar, Indira Devi, Pattabhi K. Jois, and T.K.V. Desikachar. Pattabhi Jois, founder of the Ashtanga Vinyasa style of yoga, also lived in Mysore and ran a school there until he passed away in 2009.
Anyway, Dasara is huge in Mysore. They celebrate all 10 days with various events around town. However, the processional and the torchlight parade on the last day are the major draws, and we had seats for both of those events. For the processional we were right up front at the start of the parade route. For the torchlight parade our seats were not as great, but close to the front. We revisited the Zoo, which this year was rated the best in India by a TripAdvisor survey. There was flower show in progress for the festival.
I attended a 10-day Advanced Hatha Yoga workshop that focused on building the capacity to do challenging intermediate and advance yogasana (postures.)
I did a couple of sessions of intern/assistant teaching of corporate yoga for a1000 yoga, and will do some more after the beginning of the New Year.
Lilla and I went to a talk on philosophy which introduced me to an organization near our home that we were completely unaware of called the New Acropolis. It’s a school of practical philosophy. This led me to sign up for their introductory course, which takes place every Tuesday night. The class covers a wide range of topics in the domain of practical philosophy. (By practical philosophy, I mean philosophy geared toward substantively improving oneself, as opposed to sitting around staring at one’s navel and bemoaning our inability to know whether anything is real or whether we are all heads floating in vats.) As of this writing, I’ve attended three of the first four sessions (I was in Maharashtra for one of the classes) and have found it to be a fascinating experience.
As you may know from my recent posts, this month I traveled to the Indian state of Maharashtra. Lilla and I were going to Mumbai to visit a relative, and I decided to take advantage of the relative proximity to visit the Buddhist caves at Ajanta and Ellora. The caves are among the most important archeological sites in India, but are out in the boondocks, and so they aren’t as well-known as, say, the Taj Mahal. However, in their own way I would rate them—as I do Hampi—as far more impressive than the Taj. A city of about 1.2 million, called Aurangabad, was my base from which to visit the caves. Aurangabad has a few sights of its own, most notably a copy of the Taj Mahal that is from the same era. Aurangabad also has its own set of caves that are nowhere near as extensive as the ones at Ajanta and Ellora, but are worth a visit, and it has remnants of fortification from the days when it was Aurangzeb’s capital.
Because the last graduation date occurred while I was in Thailand, I attended the graduation to get my RYT-200 certificate.
We have one more trip for the year. Lilla and I will be traveling to Hungary in the middle of the month and will be there through New Year’s Day. We last visited Budapest in the summer of 2011, and haven’t been there in the winter since 2008. We haven’t experienced seasons, in the conventional sense, for a year and half–so that’ll be interesting. (Bangalore has two seasons, rainy and dry, and even those can be muddled, as they were this year.) While I’ve been to Hungary many times, I hope to see some new sights this time, including a possible trip to Pécs, which will be my first Hungary trip south of Balaton. There are also some quirky Budapest locations listed on Atlas Obscura that I’d like to check out.
The Upcoming Year:
I hope to do some new and interesting things in the upcoming year as well. Probably the oddest activity for the year will be attending the Vipassana Meditation Course. It’s 10 days on the outskirts of Bangalore with no books, notebooks, or electronic devices of any kind, and during which my only interaction with other people will be daily meetings with a teacher. It’s meditation all day every day for 10 days straight. From accounts I’ve read it’s an amazing or insanity-inducing experience.
Writing: The past year hasn’t been as productive as I’d like on the novel front. As I mentioned, I’ve traveled quite a bit and had major time commitments on the Yoga Teacher Training front. A fragmented life disagrees with novel writing because novels are long and fictional, so if you get away from it for any length of time you have a lot of reacquainting to do when you come back to it. If you’ve ever put a book you’re reading down for a month and had trouble getting back into it, multiply that by 100 and you’ll know the challenge of doing the same for a book you’re writing—so many details for which continuity needs to be maintained. I tossed my first to chapters out entirely and rewrote them from scratch, having to update the rest to accommodate the new beginning. I’ve hemmed and hawed for days over certain plot points and devices.
Having said all that, I’m converging on a product that I’ll be ready to submit sample chapters to agents from in 2015. Most of the points that have been giving me problems are worked out as well as I think they are likely to.
I’ll do some revamping of my website, part of which I’ve already begun.
Martial Arts: I expected that the jumping-intensive level of Kalaripayattu would be the end of that martial art for me. I’m not built for leaping. However, having cut some weight and built my fitness, I’ve found that my old body has taken the acrobatic craziness surprisingly well. So I’ll continue taking classes at the Kalari Academy as long as my body holds up.
I plan to check out another martial art as well. There are a number of Muaythai places in Bangalore, and I may see if any of those work for me. I don’t have any plans to travel to Thailand in the upcoming year, but—if I do—I’ll make sure to squeeze in some Muaythai. (Actually, wherever I go I’ll try to squeeze in some of the indigenous arts.) Alternatively, there are Krav Maga classes offered at the New Acropolis, and that would be convenient to check out.
Yoga: I’d originally planned to do the 300-hour course that would complete my RYT-500 certification, but it doesn’t look like it will work with my travel schedule. However, I do intend to continue my studies, and—in particular—may pursue specialty teacher training courses in Children’s Yoga and /or Prenatal Yoga. There are also some intriguing workshop opportunities in Ashtanga Vinyasa and Iyengar Yoga (props yoga.) I may even try out the yoga in Mysore.
I’ll continue to teach my MWF courses as long as there is interest and will maintain my own personal practice. Also, I’ll try to do some interning / teaching of corporate yoga classes.
Travel: We don’t have any specific trip planned past our December Hungary trip, but we’re sure to see some fascinating places in 2015.
It looks like I may have to make a trip to the US during the summer time-frame. However, if I don’t have to take care of business with the house, I’ll probably stay in Asia and visit some other country—possibly Burma. Lilla and I are planning to make a trip to the Himalayas sometime during the summer. This may involve a trip to Amritsar (location of the Sikh Golden Temple) in conjunction with visiting McLeod Ganj / Dharamsala (home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile) and Shimla or Ladakh or other Indian portions of the Himalayas. Alternatively, we may go to Nepal.
Among the Indian locations that remain on our list to see are Khajuraho, Varanasi, Pondicherry, Hyderibad, Chennai (with Kanakapura), Kolkata, and Darjeeling. That’s not to mention countries nearby that we’d like to visit while we’re here like Burma and Sri Lanka. It’s unlikely we’ll pack all that in to 2015, but hopefully we can make a dent in it.
Well there’s my 4,500 word narcissism-fest, but it has pictures.
During my recent trip to Thailand, I attended Thai Yoga (a.k.a. Rusie Dutton, i.e. “ascetic exercises”) classes at the Wat Po Temple. As a yoga practitioner, I took note of the similarities and differences between Thai yoga and the Hatha Yoga of India. It’s no surprise that Thai Yoga would display the influence of India. Indian influence from olden times can be seen throughout Thailand. The roots of Thai Massage (a.k.a. Thai Yoga Bodywork or Nuad Bo Rarn) itself are attributed to Shivago (also, written/pronounced Chivako), a north Indian doctor in the Buddha’s community of followers.
One can plainly see the influence of Hatha yogasana (postures) in these Thai exercises, but the details vary. I’m interested in how movement systems (e.g. martial arts) with a common ancestry diverge over time in response to the unique needs of a different culture. I believe that not only the new system evolves, but there’s also a continuing evolution in the original line. One can, therefore, end up with systems that look little alike over the course of several generations.
The degree to which the Thai Yoga poses vary from Hatha Yogasana varies. In the Thai Yoga class we did a simple lateral bend with interlocked fingers that was identical to a Sivinanda Yoga pose named tiryaka tadasana.
Balancing poses made up much of the Wat Po Thai Yoga sequence. This makes sense as the course was aimed at practitioners of Thai Massage and balance is important in this massage system because there are techniques that involve standing on one foot as one applies pressure with the other fort or in which one must stand to apply stretches. (Obviously, it’s bad for business to step on the recipient in an uncontrolled fashion or to topple onto them.) There were poses that were reminiscent of Natarajasana (Shiva’s Dancer pose), Vrksasana (tree pose), and Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (hand to big toe pose). Each of these varied in the details. The most prevalent Thai variation was bending the support leg to lower one’s center-of-gravity. In Hatha Yoga, it’s usually taught to keep the support leg as straight as one can manage (this both contributes to the stretch and can prevent loading the tendons.)
NATARAJASANA: There were two variants of this pose practiced at Wat Po. Both folded the torso more forward than one would typically see in Hatha Yoga, as well as bending the support leg more. The first version (palm on front knee) is as such:
The second version has the front hand up in a manner similar to the Hatha version, but the torso isn’t kept upright and the support leg is deeply bent.
In contrast, the Hatha version is more upright.
VRKSASANA: There are two variants of tree pose in the Thai Yoga. In both the ankle is kept on top of the thigh and the support leg is bent. Version one is as follows:
Version 2 includes a wrist stretch with the balance pose. One puts fingers on thigh facing upward and the squat folds the wrist back.
The Indian version:
UTTHITA HASTA PADANGUSTHASANA: There are also two variations of this pose. Note the bending of the support knee. Version 1 holds the foot with the same side hand and places the opposite palm on the knee.
Version two holds the extended foot with both hands.
For comparison, the Hatha Yoga version:
UTKATA KONASANA: There are three variants of a pose that is usually called Goddess pose or Utkata Konasana. The difference here primarily deals with how the hands are positioned, but given the many variants within Hatha Yoga for hand position, this can be seen as a virtually identical pose.
VIRABHADRASANA: There is a series of five lunge poses that are reminiscent of the Virabhadrasana (Warrior). I’ve dropped the first one because it requires a photo taken from a back angle becuas it involves pulling one’s wrist behind one’s back.
1.) Use your words. Don’t demonstrate unnecessarily. I came to teaching yoga in a backward way. It started with me doing my personal practice with my wife a few times a week. We were pretty much just practicing together, though I took the lead based on greater experience and knowledge of yoga. Eventually, a couple of other people began to join these makeshift sessions. I remember looking up and seeing a person doing parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle pose) in a dangerous manner. This was my first glimpse into the importance of keeping eyes up if you take on the role of helping someone with their practice.
Having a relatively high level of flexibility and many years of movement training (in the form of martial arts), I generally don’t have that much trouble mimicking postures and following corrective guidance. However, having gotten away from teaching for a little while, I quickly forgot how low the average level of bodily awareness is. Truth be told, I’d probably have been hard-pressed to explain what was so dangerous about that individual’s alignment at the time. I just had an intuitive notion that it wasn’t his skeleton or the correct muscles that were holding him up. I’ve since been working hard to move beyond an intuitive understanding. I’ve been voraciously reading everything about anatomy and body-reading that I can get my hands on–studies above and beyond the requisite anatomy instruction of the course–which itself was substantial.
2.) Demonstrate in a smart (and not narcissistic) manner. Of course, demonstration does have its role when you have individuals who’ve not seen the movement or posture before–and if it’s a difficult posture to explain or likely to result in injury if instructions are misinterpreted. Such demonstration is best done with students watching and before they begin to move into the posture. Having only a small, closed group, whose capabilities are known to me, I’ve learned that it’s better for me to demonstrate in a manner that the participants are capable of doing while maintaining safe and stable alignment.
Of course, if one has a class of students with wide-ranging capabilities–or unknown capabilities–one will want to demonstrate as close to the idealized form as one can, so that the more proficient students can work toward that ideal. However, having struggled to master difficult asana (postures), there can be an incentive to show off one’s capability for the sake of… well showing off. If one demonstrates an idealized form that one’s students are incapable of performing, there’s a risk they’ll do something dangerous in an attempt to emulate that form.
3.) Lazy yogis aren’t without virtue. The primary purpose of practicing asana could be said to build a body with which minimal effort is required to maintain a given posture–be it a meditative seated pose or simply standing. Most people have subtle misalignments in their bodies of which they aren’t even aware. They may have chronic or occasional pain that they aren’t remotely aware is tied to being out of alignment.These misalignments end up costing a person a lot of extra effort and pain over the course of a lifetime. Being conscientious about one’s posture is the first step to fixing these problems, and if one spends all one’s time driven to master the next piece of mega-contortionism or acrobatics without learning to be a little lazy, one is missing the point of yoga.
4.) Props aren’t just for old ladies with bad hips. When I started yoga teacher training, I’d never used a block, strap, or bolster, and chairs only for sitting. Since then, I’ve learned a lot from the asana with props training both in the teacher training course, and by attending and observing such courses of my own volition. I think there’s a widespread notion that props are for those who lack the flexibility to do proper yoga and that such classes are exclusively for those people trying to ease into yoga. What one might not realize is that one ends up holding postures much longer in such a class, that one is usually discouraged from using the prop any more than one has to, and that props don’t always make asana easier.
I’m pretty flexible in most of my musculature, but I found that there were areas in which my alignment could definitely be improved by using a prop now and again.
5.) Kids are born yogis. Among the course requirements beyond the studio/classroom was charitable teaching for a nonprofit organization. Our group was fortunate to find an orphanage that was interested in having us. However, we were faced with a challenge. Kids weren’t exactly a demographic we were trained to teach–and yoga isn’t an activity one associates with childhood exuberance. We knew we’d have to make it exciting and challenging to keep their interest, but we also didn’t know what their capabilities would be. Furthermore, we had a wide age range with which to contend. Some of the kids went to elementary school and some to college, as well as those grades in between.
It turned out that even the youngest–a boy of four–was ready to take on all that we could throw at him. Before we even began teaching he eagerly showed us his headstand.
6.) Sadhana is most productive when it’s least cerebral. Sadhana is one’s personal practice–away from the studio. We have to report our experience of 50 hours of Sadhana as part of the “beyond the studio” requirement. It took me a while to get into the grove of this. The act of having to think about and record one’s personal practice can definitely be a buzz-kill. There’s a risk of it turning something fun into a bureaucratic chore. Ultimately, I gave up on trying to capture everything. I get the most out of sadhana when I experiment and play with the flow. Sometimes things flow; sometimes they don’t, but there’s a certain degree of playfulness to it. I don’t like either writing down a sequence and practicing it, or writing it down as it comes to me on the mat.
7.) Avoid teacher – student pitfalls. An instructor in any fitness domain is in a challenging position. One needs to push the student to be the best that they can be. Students expect as much. That’s why they come to gyms and studios rather than just working out at home. Being pushy is part of the instructor’s value added. At the same time, one doesn’t want to push a participant into an injury or even let them push themselves into an injury–if you can avoid it.
Here’s a common interaction. A new student comes to class. Testing the water, the teacher tells them to do a task or posture in a more intense way (i.e. lower, faster, deeper, longer, etc.) One of two things can happen. The student either appears to comply or they don’t. If they don’t comply, it could be because they really think they did comply (new students may have horrible body awareness and lack proprioception [it’s a word; look it up.]) It could be because they are scared to try (new students may have very poor understanding of what their bodies are capable of.) Or, it could be because they really can’t (i.e. they may have a skeletal constraint or a past injury, etc.)
If the student doesn’t appear to try, there’s a risk that the teacher will just forget about trying to challenge that person. Call this pitfall #1–giving up. That person may then come to feel ignored or molly-coddled if they do begin to gain bodily awareness and or confidence that they aren’t going to tear in half like wet newspaper. That is, if they haven’t quit by then.
If the student does give a good-faith effort, the teacher is pleased and will continue to try to keep pushing them harder. This works out great for all concerned until eventually the student does begin to run up against their limits. When they do, there’s the risk that the teacher will begin to think they’ve become lazy (Pitfall #2–mistaking the wall for laziness, which reverts to pitfall #1.) If one has a student that doesn’t seemed challenged at first, one can almost believe their potential is limitless, but they will hit walls eventually. It’ll take time for them to get over the walls they can, and some they never will.
8.) People do yoga for many different reasons. Most yoga practitioners are at least vaguely aware why the true believers practice yoga. For the believers, it’s all a road to Samadhi, or liberation from suffering. Of course, there are others who just want to be in better shape and to de-stress, and don’t really believe in Samadhi. Most yogis and yoginis seem to do a good job of tolerating people with other goals, but they don’t necessarily understand each other and their optimal path to where they are going can be quite different.
There are some pretty doctrinaire approaches to yoga out there. Is Power yoga yoga? It has “yoga” right there in the name, but it’s a source of controversy–even though it’s probably among the more yoga-esque of the Western Yoga offshoots. If you’re Bikram Choudhary no one is doing proper yoga unless it’s his patented 26 asana sequence in a room with precise heat and humidity specifications. Some people think you should only practice one sequence until you’ve mastered it, and others believe variety is the spice of life.
I guess the point is to be honest about one’s views on yoga, so that students can make up their own minds about whether one’s objectives align with their own.
9.) Beware of blaming the usual suspects. I have a problem doing certain arm balances. The assumption might be that either a.) I lack the upper body strength, or b.) that I’m afraid of losing balance and falling on my face. Those are the usual problems. I probably wouldn’t be diagnosed with the former based on appearance and performance of other asana (e.g. planks and whatnot), but I might be of the latter. However, countless break-falls done over many years has left me pretty much unafraid of falling from six inches off the floor. The actual culprit? I have one wrist with a poor range of motion (90-degrees of extension on a good day.)
10.) Water in the nose is not nearly as horrible as it would seem. Most people know that there are breathing exercises (pranayama) in Hatha Yoga in addition to the asana. However, some may be unaware that there are a series of cleansing practices (shatkarma or kriya) associated with Hatha Yoga as well. We had to practice some of these, but the only unnerving one we had to learn was jala neti, in which water is poured in one nostril in such a way as to make it come out the other nostril. I imagined it being like the horrible experience of getting a nose-full of sea water while swimming in the ocean. However, I found it entirely harmless. There was no burning, stinging, or feeling waterlogged in the nasal cavity. I will definitely do it again, which is more than can be said for some of the shatkarma practices.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I recently reviewed the book Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha [APMB] and used this book as a point of comparison, and so further insight into my thoughts on this book can gleaned from that review. This will be fairly short and to the point as the APMB review provided a great deal of detail.
Light on Yoga is the work of world-renowned yogi BKS Iyengar. Iyengar is one of several noted students of T.T. Krishnamacharya, and is celebrated for developing a system using props (belts, blocks, chairs, bolsters, etc.) to achieve correct alignment in yogasanas. You won’t learn about props in this book. Iyengar–at least the Iyengar of the 1960’s–didn’t need props to achieve proper alignment. In fact, he was capable of all manner of what can best be described as contortionism.
This book is a solid reference for Hatha Yoga. It covers all the basic asana (postures), pranayama (breathing), bandha (locks), and a large number of variations and advanced asana. Light on Yoga also has an introduction to the eight limbs of yoga (of which asana and pranayama are but two.) There are also helpful appendices like a glossary, a 300-week course outline, and a list of courses for various ailments. The book doesn’t cover shatkarma (cleansing practices) or mudra (sealing postures) in any depth.
The graphics in this book are beneficial and consist of black and white photos of Iyenger performing the asana with his perfect alignment. There are multiple shots of asana as needed either to demonstrate how to enter / exit the posture or to show the completed posture from multiple angles.
As I suggested in APMB review, my biggest complaint with Light on Yoga is that it doesn’t systematically address contraindications, and we don’t learn what evidence supports various claims of benefits.
I’d recommend this book for Hatha Yoga students and teachers. Its strengths make it a valuable text and its weaknesses can be addressed with other books.