A little yoga humor…

YOGA STYLES: a simple, animated guide – yoga humor, yogini style, yoga personality, yoga tips – Y is for Yogini.

Click this link to go to a page that clearly delineates the various styles of yoga.

Seriously. Click the link.

Follow-ups to NYT article about yoga injuries

I wanted to post links to several follow-up articles relating to my recent post The dark side of yoga about last week’s New York Times article about yoga and injuries, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body so that if you are following this controversy through my blog, you can keep up.

Ashtanga Yoga New York posted an article, How the NYT Can Wreck Yoga. This article cites two reasons for the increase in yoga injuries: overzealousness on the part of students and the yoga industry.

The article states that too much zeal is a trait of a particular type of person “no matter what a teacher may caution.” (I just wonder if some of the people with this trait become bad yoga teachers themselves.)

The second reason is about the $5 billion per year yoga products and services industry and a value system that is based on economic incentive. The author argues that quality declines when the potential for making money is great, resulting in yoga becoming “McDonafied”. Therefore, more injuries occur because teachers and studios are more into making money than teaching quality yoga that prevents injuries.

Some good data are included, and the writer brings up injury rates in other physical activities, like basketball or football.

A balanced, serious, and accurate scientific report on the risks of yoga would have, at a minimum, explicitly stated that no one actually knows the injury rates for yoga, as is actually the case.

Click the link above to read the whole thing and all the comments.

Another article was published on Yogadork’s excellent blog. Is the New York Times Wrecking Yoga? The Community Responds includes the response mentioned above as well as a letter by Roger Cole, senior Iyengar teacher and Ph.D., to the New York Times, setting the record straight:

‘The article incorrectly states that yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar “insisted” that students practice shoulder stand in a manner that dangerously hyperflexes the neck. In fact, he insists on exactly the opposite. Mr. Broad cites a Yoga Journal column I wrote describing a method of “reducing neck bending in a shoulder stand by lifting the shoulders on a stack of folded blankets…” This safer method was invented by B.K.S. Iyengar and he has long been adamant that all of his certified teachers must teach the pose this way. Mr. Iyengar, who recently celebrated his 93rd birthday, still maintains a vigorous yoga practice that includes long holds in headstand (without support) and shoulder stand with his shoulders lifted on a prop.

The column describing Mr. Iyengar’s safer shoulder stand technique, entitled “Keep the Neck Healthy in Shoulderstand,” is at http://www.yogajournal.com/for_teachers/1091. The original version of Mr. Broad’s article supplied an incorrect link.

This is the way I was taught to do and teach shoulder stand by my teacher and trainer Eleanor Harris, as I mentioned in my previous post on this topic.

The third (so far) article was posted by Charlotte Bell on the blog of Huggermugger, a company that sells yoga supplies. In Youch! Yoga Injuries: How Not to Wreck Your Body, this 30-year yoga practitioner says matter of factly that any time you take your body out of its normal range of motion, there’s the potential for injury.

She wishes the NYT had examined modern versus traditional yoga teacher training. Me too. The traditional way has a teacher training students individually.

This is the model I chose. I was one of two students in my seven-month-long teacher training by Eleanor, who trained in the Iyengar tradition as well as other styles and who has over 20 years of experience. The other student, Kandice, and I had both been in Eleanor’s yoga classes for a good period of time before beginning her teacher training. She was aware of our practices and could address our needs individually.

The modern way of teacher training is often one-size-fits-all, for up to 40 students at a time, sometimes in a short amount of time.

Which do you think is going to produce better yoga teachers and reduced injury rates?

Bell also makes the point that yoga is not just poses:

We all know that yoga is not just poses, but asana remains the centerpiece of most Western practice. I wonder if the rise of yoga-related injuries might also be related to the fact that asana has been taken out of its original context. When the physical practice for its own sake becomes the be-all, end-all, it is much easier to become forceful and competitive, which IMO is the source of many yoga injuries. Consider how practicing the eight limbs tempers asana practice:

  • Yama:  The yamas teach us to approach practice with honesty, generosity and the spirit of non-harming.
  • Niyama:  The niyamas teach us about contentment, self-study (so that we know how poses affect us), and that our practice is not just about ourselves, that our practice is for the benefit of all beings.
  • Pranayama:  Giving our breath primacy in asana practice, as Donna Farhi teaches, shows us how to practice with the continuity of our breath in mind, so that we don’t move beyond the limits of our body’s ability to breathe freely.
  • Pratyahara:  Pratyahara teaches us to not become attached to the pleasant—or unpleasant—sensations we feel in practice.
  • Dharana:  Dharana steadies the mind so that we can see more clearly what is happening in our bodies as we practice.
  • Dhyana:  Dhyana refines our awareness of the experiences of each passing moment.
  • Samadhi:  Gives us a taste of the settling of the mind into silence—the true definition of yoga.

Well said, Charlotte Bell.

The dark side of yoga

This article should be required reading for all yogis: How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body – NYTimes.com.

I have been lucky in that I’ve never been injured from doing yoga since I started practicing in 1982. I’ve only had muscle soreness, but never severe or lasting more than a day. Doing yoga from a book was risky, but it taught me to pay attention to my own experience.

I’ve been lucky to have had good teachers. Eleanor Harris would never have students do shoulder stand with the neck bent ninety degrees to the torso, as described in this article.

Instead, we would fold blankets and our mat to create an elevated cushioned ledge for the shoulders to rest on with the head resting on the floor a couple of inches below. Afterwards, we would rest on our backs with support under our necks. We also did prep poses before attempting sarvangasana.

Let your awareness of your body’s limits be your primary guide, and beware of any teacher who would override you.

Some people naturally have very flexible bodies. It seems that a lot of these people, to whom yoga comes easily, become yoga teachers and end up setting the bar for the rest of us.

I am fairly flexible but am unable to do lotus pose, arm balances, and several other advanced poses. I’m okay with that. I don’t feel like I have to prove anything by doing advanced poses. Still, after working toward it for an hour (or a lifetime), it is a thrill to finally do hanumanasana. I understand the desire to deepen one’s yoga practice.

I’m happy with the yoga I can do, happy to make small  increments of progress, which these days has as much to do with my own body awareness as it does with achieving an external form.

Most of my yoga studies for the past few years have been with Iyengar-certified and Anusara-inspired teachers, who tend to focus on anatomy and form.

I like how yoga keeps me flexible enough, how the poses open up my meridians so that my energy flows with more ease. I simply feel better during my off-mat life because of yoga, and if the day ever comes that I don’t, that’s the day I stop doing it.

Besides reading this article, I also recommend that yoga students and teachers watch the video Anatomy for Yoga with Paul Grilley, which clearly shows the range of flexibility in the bodies of yogis. It will make you feel better if you can’t get your arms straight in wheel pose.

An excerpt is available on YouTube:

Anusara yoga’s revelatory spiral; trailer arriving my first day of massage school

For the past week, I’ve been taking some yoga classes at Castle Hill Fitness, courtesy of a one-week pass I unexpectedly was given back in February. Most of my yoga training has been by Iyengar-certified teachers, and I like that emphasis on alignment because alignment just happens to be one of my major issues in this body, and I can use yoga as an awareness practice instead of just keeping fit.

At Castle Hill, I’ve been taking Anusara classes. If you don’t know, Anusara yoga is an offshoot of Iyengar yoga. Anusara yoga’s founder, John Friend, was a senior Iyengar teacher until he parted ways with B.K.S. Iyengar and created Anusara yoga.

Anusara is not that different from Iyengar yoga. In fact, it’s pretty similar but has Universal Principles of Alignment that everything is based on.

(If you’re interested in seeing a visual aid that groups the types of yoga, click here to see Alison Hinks’ awesome graphic, Kissing Cousins: The Wheel of Yoga. You’ll see that Iyengar and Anusara are right next to each other, way on the opposite site from Ashtanga and power yoga.)

These classes have challenged me in a really good way. My deep lower abs are still a bit sore from classes a week ago, and I’m feeling my shoulders and hips in a different way.

I’ve done Warrior 1 in nearly every class and gotten better at it. It takes a lot of strength and balance for me.

Most exciting, I finally got “the spiral”  that is a signature of Anusara yoga. Got it in my body, that is. Felt a shift. It was a revelation, widening the sacrum area, the back of the second chakra, creating a nice energetic opening.

Since this is a part of my body that has had troubles, it was awesome. How can I incorporate this into my life? 

I don’t know how to maintain it in various poses, so I’ll continue to take Anusara classes. My teacher today, Brigitte, steered me toward the Anusara Teacher Training manual, which I’ve ordered. I’m looking forward very much to reading about the principles of alignment and learning what I can learn from a book while my body learns experientially.

Also, Brigitte is beautiful, with the buffest body of any white-haired woman you’ll ever see. I’m so pleased to take yoga from a teacher with white hair who knows what she’s doing. She read a Mary Oliver poem at the beginning of class today with a message that served the class. I loved that.

Yogis can show the world what it looks like to age with grace.


My trailer should be here Monday morning! I’ve been looking at cork and Marmoleum samples. Decided not to do radiant heated floors until I’ve lived in the trailer through a winter and seen how cold it really gets.  Contacted my handyman Ian and emailed him a list of things to do. Requested that the electricity be turned on — apparently can’t happen until Wednesday…

Still need to research air conditioners. Lot to learn there. Metal skins, condensation, ventilation, and so on…

It just so happens, with all the waiting for the title and then for flood waters to recede over the last few months, that my trailer is arriving on my very first day of massage school! I don’t even know what meaning to assign to that coincidence in the big scheme of things!  On a practical level, I can’t be in two places at once.

I don’t want to miss any of my massage education, but I think I need to be there when the trailer arrives. I’ll email the school and let them know and plan to get there as soon as I can.

Hello, major life changes. Good to see you! 

Read these books!

I read a lot.

Let me clarify that. I don’t read as much as a few other people read, or as much as I read in the past, but I am a reader. I’ve been an avid reader from a young age, at times indiscriminate but now much more discerning.

It’s that Buddhist saying: “Don’t waste time.” If a book doesn’t hook me early on, I set it aside and try later. It doesn’t mean it’s not good. It just means it’s not relevant enough to what I need to learn in that moment to make the effort feel alive. Energy flows where attention goes. If there’s no energy there, why bother?

The following is a list of books I read in 2010,  plan to read in 2011 (plan, not commit), read before 2010 (and mentioned on this blog) that have shaped my world, and reference books that I dip into but will probably not read cover to cover. Links are included to the books’ pages on Amazon.com; if you buy a book from clicking a link here, I’ll get a very small financial reward — which I appreciate, because blogging takes time.

I’ve mentioned a few of the 2010 books prominently, namely, The Open-Focus Brain, A Symphony in the Brain, Buddha’s Brain, The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process, and What Really Matters. You can do a search for those posts and read what I wrote if you want.

Books read in 2010

Buddha, by Karen Armstrong

Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, by Rick Hanson

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, by T.K.V. Desikachar

Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings, by A.G. Mohan with Ganesh Mohan

The Open-Focus Brain: Harnessing the Power of Attention to Heal Mind and Body, by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins

Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times, by Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T.

The Revolutionary Trauma Release Process: Transcend Your Toughest Times, by David Bercelli

Strengths Finder 2.0, by Tom Rath

A Symphony in the Brain, by Jim Robbins

The Web That Has No Weaver, by Ted J. Kaptchuk

What Really Matters: Searching for Wisdom in America, by Tony Schwartz

Yoga Sutras, translated by Kofi Busia (PDF file)

2011 Reading List

The 4-Hour Body, by Timothy Ferriss

Access Your Brain’s Joy Center: The Free Soul Method, by Pete A. Sanders Jr.

The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, by Leonard Shlain

Beliefs: Pathways to Health & Well-Being, by Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom, and Suzi Smith

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell

Chants of a Lifetime: Searching for a Heart of Gold, by Krishna Das

The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga: The Authoritative Presentation Based on 30 Years of Direct Study Under the Legendary Yoga Teacher Krishnamacharya, by Srivatsa Ramaswami

Effortless Wellbeing: The Missing Ingredients for Authentic Wellness, by Evan Finer

Emotional Intelligence 2.0, by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer

Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, by Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell

Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine, by Lonny S. Jarrett

Transforming #1, by Ron Smothermon, M.D.

Waking Up to What You Do: A Zen Practice for Meeting Every Situation with Intelligence and Compassion, by Diane Eshin Rizzo

Yoga Body: Origins of Modern Posture Yoga, by Mark Singleton

Influential books from my past

The complete works of Carlos Castaneda, starting with The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge

Dune, by Frank Herbert

Emptiness Dancing, by Adyashanti

The Spiritual Dimension of the Enneagram: Nine Faces of the Soul, by Sandra Maitri

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert A. Heinlein

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey, by Jill Bolte Taylor

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences, by Peter A. Levine

The Healing Triad: Your Liver…Your Lifeline, by Jack Tips

Reference books

Light on Yoga, by B.K.S. Iyengar

Poems New and Collected, by Wislawa Szymborska

The Subtle Body: An Encyclopedia of Your Energetic Anatomy, by Cyndi Dale

Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, by B.K.S. Iyengar