who says yoga classes should be 90 minutes?

New York yoga teacher J. Brown raised an interesting question today in his blog post regarding the “Incredible Shrinking Yoga Class.”

He writes, “In the last twenty years, yoga in the west has gone from a guru-driven model to a market-driven model. Decisions still often come from atop a pyramid. But now, the directives are based more on aggregated data than on the presumed authority of an ancient wisdom. One small manifestation of this turn can be found in the way that yoga classes have gotten progressively shorter. As yoga teachers are newly questioning old models for what and how they teach, industry mores also deserve examination.”

When I got back into yoga in the mid-1990s the class I attended at my local park district was 60 minutes.  I practiced at the park district for about 7 years (never moving into an “advanced” class whatever that meant back then) before I did my first teacher training and started attending yoga classes in Chicago studios where the classes were 90 minutes.

Those 7 years of 60 minute classes were never “just asana” classes.  Not that we talked much about philosophy or even did formal pranayama, but the teacher was a mindful yoga type before being”mindful” was a thing in Modern Yoga.

J. Brown writes, “Perhaps there needs to be a better way to distinguish between classes that are more directly concerned with the broader aspects of yoga, and those more geared towards an exercise regimen which potentially hints at something found elsewhere.” [emphasis supplied]

I have a simple answer for that: don’t call the asana only/exercise regimen classes “yoga.”  Truth in Advertising, what a concept.

I wrote about that in 2010 (sigh) when I said it was a question of semantics.

Or if it’s an asana-only class, why call it yoga at all? Physical therapists use movements derived from yoga all the time but they don’t call it “yoga.” It’s physical therapy and everybody knows that is what it is. Nothing else.

Getting back to the length of time of a typical modern yoga class, at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram where I trained the morning asana classes are 60 minutes.  The asana classes also include pranayama and meditation (which is how I teach) and the classes do not feel rushed, in fact, they are perfectly sequenced.  Long savasana is not needed (like a 10 minute one at the end of typical American classes) because we do one or two minute savasanas after certain sequences.

So who decreed that a yoga class needs to be 90 minutes?   But I guess that depends on what calls “yoga” (getting back to semantics.)

At the KYM pranayama classes contain some asana and the meditation class — a whole hour of meditative focus, how shocking! – contains some asana and of course, pranayama.  In other words, the yoga is not compartmentalized like it is here, the yoga is a seamless process.

A shorter, powerful practice is absolutely possible, it depends on the skill and training of the teacher.  But who can teach that way coming out of a modern 200 hour teacher training?

If what is referred to as “yoga” nowadays is shrunk to 60 minutes of posing and a 5 minute nap at the end, how then is that Yoga?  A 60 minute class of 20 minutes each of functional asana, pranayama, and meditation, skillfully taught, can be more potent than 90 minutes of something where “the teacher kicked my ass” that I used to hear all the time in studios.  How many 90 minute classes are nothing more than rushing through as many sun salutations as possible with no attention paid to the breath and doing a typical vinyasa flow once on each side and moving on?

IMG_0112
my “freedom style” yoga class in India

Thank the Goddess I no longer teach in yoga studios.  J. Brown writes, “The days of regular attendance in group classes allowing for a comprehensive yoga education have perhaps passed. People are not generally looking for a yoga education when they are coming to a yoga class anymore.”

Maybe so, I haven’t taught in studios for years.  I teach out of my house and I’ve been told my classes ARE like going to Yoga School.  Maybe that’s why some of my students (few that they are nowadays) have been with me since Day One of my teaching in 2002.  They keep telling me every class has been different in all those years.  I still can’t figure that out.

As a wise and pithy friend commented in my semantics post linked above:

“It’s [Yoga] a path of liberation we are talking about here – and not from “bra fat!” Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra (Hartranft translaton) says it all:

Now, the teachings of yoga.
Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness.
Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.
Otherwise awareness takes itself to be
the patterns of consciousness.”

That can still be done in a 60 minute class.  You just have to know how.

do I need to be anointed to be credible?

 

So much goes on in the Modern Yoga World (TM) now that it’s hard to keep up without it sounding like a constant rant.  Maybe I should just write about what actor or rock star does yoga, post a photo of them drinking a latte with a mat under their arm, and comment on what brand yoga pants they wear.  That would really be so much easier and would probably get me more readers.  But I digress.

I’m sure by now many of you have heard about the Yoga Alliance stance on using terms such as “yoga therapy” or “therapeutic yoga” or anything that sounds like a teacher has anything to do with “healing” or “medicine” or even “alleviating.”  You can can go on their site and see the restricted words.  As someone who worked for litigation lawyers for 20 years I know it was a CYA (“cover your ass”) move.

The policy does not only apply to your YA profile but also to your personal website IF you are YA registered.  Don’t register with the YA and you can say whatever you want about what you do or how you teach.

I am now an E-RYT 500 teacher with the YA and also an official “Continuing Education Provider.”  Yes, yes, yes, I know — I ranted for years about the Yoga Alliance, I totally own that.  You can read what I wrote in 2011 here when I was a mere E-RYT 200.

But the fact remains that there are those WHO WILL NOT STUDY OR TRAIN WITH A TEACHER UNLESS THEY ARE ANOINTED BY THE YOGA ALLIANCE.  I resisted reinstating my YA registration for years and finally broke down.  Of the teachers I know who also consider the YA useless and a waste of money, 100% say that the reason they pay up is because of the above reason.  The teacher training I took at the old school Chicago studio where I originally certified in 2002 was never YA registered until people starting asking the owner whether his training was YA registered.

The fact is that I re-joined the YA purely for marketing reasons, not because I think it means anything.  The fact is that after teaching for 15 years, training for 10 years in India, and being featured in a book, I am a yoga nobody where I live so if the YA seals give me “credibility” and “presence”, so be it.

I do not have the luxury of owning a studio that can attract students.  And yes, if you are surviving and making money with a yoga studio that IS a luxury in today’s yoga business market, consider yourself lucky.  I live in a town of 25,000 and there are three studios besides a park district that offers yoga.  Fifteen years ago when I started teaching and basically knew nothing, I had 40 students in another park district’s class.  Now I am lucky if I have five students who show up consistently.  Those students don’t care about the YA but if I can get teachers who want more training by using the YA seal, I am going to use it to my advantage.  It ain’t personal, it’s business, baby.

Cora Wen told me that back in 2001 Judith Lasater told her: “Every profession has an organisation and YA looks like they are winning in the registry.  Get the certificate now.  Or you will one day have to pay someone less qualified than you are to get a certificate.”

There ya go.  Like I said….

YACEP

Now the International Association of Yoga Therapists has rolled out their “certification” for yoga therapists.  I’ve been an IAYT member for years and even wrote an article for their journal on teaching trauma sensitive yoga.

Don’t get me wrong.  I think there should be some type of measure of a yoga teacher’s ability just as there is a measure for massage therapists, for example.  And yes, I know MTs are licensed which I absolutely do not agree with for yoga teachers.  But for these paid for labels to be the be-all and end-all and the only thing that makes a teacher worthy in the public eye makes me very itchy.

I looked into the IAYT certification process but I don’t have the proof that in all the intensives I took at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram that there was any “yoga therapy” involved.  But there was because there always is something about yoga therapeutics beyond asana practice.

What got me thinking about all of this was the article “Are We Entering a Golden Age of Yoga Therapy??” by Eden Goldman.  According to Goldman’s quote…

“Yoga Therapy is the philosophy, art, and science of adapting classical Yoga techniques to contemporary situations to support people with physical, mental, and emotional ailments. According to the definition of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), “Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and well-being through the application of the teachings and practices of Yoga.”

Practically speaking, Yoga Therapy is the reinvention of a personalized Yoga experience where the practice is modified to meet the individual’s ever-changing needs. Since ancient times, adaptability in one’s teaching, practice, and approach has rested at the heart of Yoga’s most fundamental influence: the relationship, insights, and trust created through the practice by one teacher working with one student.”

…I’ve been a “yoga therapist” for 10+ years.  Do I still need to be anointed by the IAYT to be credible?

I’ve done 10 years of many intensives at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, multiple yoga therapy trainings including two levels of Phoenix Rising, 300 hours of Svastha Yoga Therapy with Dr. Ganesh Mohan, a Therapeutic Yoga for Seniors training at Duke University, and trauma sensitive yoga.  Besides teaching in India and Africa.

Can I call myself a “master teacher”?  You tell me.

Do I still need the YA and IAYT seals on my website to prove my worth to the rest of the world?

It’s become crystal clear to me that the name of the game in the Modern Yoga World is MARKETING because no one gives a damn about all of the above.  I don’t have the $6,000 that I need to upgrade my website to grab SEO and make it the latest and greatest Yoga Business site.  It’s much cheaper for me to lose myself in South India and hang a shingle that says “YOGA TEACHER TRAINING.”

In my 15 years of teaching I’ve never put myself out there as a “yoga therapist” because I believe all yoga can be therapeutic if applied in a beneficial manner.  Even Bikram Yoga was beneficial to the Vietnam War vet who spoke to us about his PTSD when I did the trauma sensitive yoga training.

I’ve always said that no one called Krishnamacharya a yoga therapist, he taught YOGA.

Krishnamacharya’s principle was “Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.“  He taught that Yoga should always be adapted to the unique needs of each individual.

Does one who jumps through the hoops and pays for the IAYT “certification” automatically know more or is more capable of supporting or empowering someone than I am?  The buying of labels has been problematic for me for years. It’s the same old story: people will study with a Yoga Alliance or IAYT labeled teacher before they will with someone who has the years of experience.

In the end, I don’t need validation.
I know what I offer.

But then in this Modern Yoga day and age there is this passing itself off as “Yoga Medicine.”  Yes, you CAN think yourself thin AND sexy!

It’s Tara Stiles’ Slim Calm Sexy Yoga all over again.  Just use the word “meditate” and it makes it all credible and so deliciously New Age.

THAT POST IS EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH MODERN YOGA.

Women with eating disorders feel bad enough about themselves already, how much worse will they feel if they can’t “think themselves thin”?  At least she didn’t mention bra fat.

How is this in any way empowering?  I’m all about mindful eating and eating healthy foods, but the buzzwords used by this “master yoga teacher and specialist in sports and Chinese medicine” are what is typically found on a magazine cover at your grocery store check out line, the same bullshit that sounds like “LOSE YOUR BELLY FAT IN 5 EASY YOGA MOVES!”

No wonder us old school teachers throw in the towel

Funny.  I did not see the Yoga Alliance or IAYT seals on her website.  Anywhere.

Without them you can say whatever you want to say about yoga.

Sri Desikachar has died – June 21, 1938 – August 8, 2016

“The light has expanded and is continuing to guide us beyond boundaries of space and time.

After an extraordinary life of service and healing, Sir TKV Desikachar reached the lotus feet of the lord on 08 August 2016 at 2.45am India Time.

The family is making arrangements for the funeral following the traditional Indian scriptures. An international memorial meeting to honor him will be conducted later in the year, where his students from around the world can participate. Details of this will be communicated in time.

At this current moment, we request you all to hold him in your prayers and celebrate his wonderful contributions to the fields of Yoga, Yoga Therapy, and Spirituality.”
— Kausthub Desikachar

IMG_0150
My first Vedic Chant class, KYM, September 2005

Photo ©Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education 2016

I became a Yoga teacher in 2002.  Three years later in 2005 I did my first trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram.  I have studied at KYM every year since then and also with some of Krishnamacharya’s and Desikachar’s direct students.

Looking back I know now that before I went to KYM I floundered around as a teacher from 2002-2005.  In 2005 it all synced.  It synced when I heard Sir say “we begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens.”  My life and my Yoga were changed.

When I returned home in 2005 I was so excited about what I learned that like a religious convert I wanted to spread the Good News.  So I created a workshop in “Krishnamacharya Yoga” for the studio where I was teaching in far west suburban Chicago.  I geared it toward the teachers and seasoned students.

No one signed up.

I remember being shocked that even Yoga teachers did not know who Krishnamacharya was and did not know about what was then called the Viniyoga approach of teaching to the individual.

I wonder how many newbie Yoga teachers now, in this age of 200 hour teacher trainings in every studio on every block, know about Sri Desikachar.

I can tell you from experience that few (again, in MY experience) know about the slow, deliberate breath centered style of Yoga that Sir taught.  Last year when I was at a KYM intensive a student came up to me at the end of the first week and said, “You’ve been here many times so I want to ask a question….”  I knew what he was about to ask because I had heard it before: “Do the classes get any faster?”

I smiled.  “No.  If you’ve come here looking for an American style vinyasa class you’ve come to the wrong place.”

He did not return for the second week.

When I took the Trauma Sensitive Yoga training taught by Dave Emerson at The Trauma Institute, I realized on the first day that what he was teaching was recycled “Krishnamacharya Yoga”, i.e., breath centered Yoga.  Other than the physiological information about how trauma affects the brain and the body, it was nothing new to me.  If it was not for Sri Desikachar and the idea of teaching to the individual, I believe there would not be the “trauma sensitive yoga” trainings that there are today.

Weeping.

A true Yoga Master has died.

I remember how nervous I was to chant a few lines from the Gayatri Mantra for him the first time.

I remember Sir’s free public talks on the Sutras or Sanskrit or any other Yoga topic on Saturday mornings in Chennai.

From a blog post I wrote in 2006 after my second trip to KYM.  I believe the intensive was called “The Power of Yoga”:

“The teachers keep emphasizing how personal transformation is the true goal of yoga, not getting the yoga butt or abs, but personal transformation, changing our states of mind, replacing negative tendencies with positive ones, and connecting to the True Self, how ultimately this can not be done in a group yoga class, it can only be done one-on-one with a teacher, as Krishnamacharya taught.

They showed us the sequence on how to teach the bandhas, starting with jalandhara going down to mulabandha, and how people should be able to inhale and exhale at least to a count of 10 or 12, before even attempting to work with the bandhas. Also told us about contraindications. Again, once more this emphasized for me what NOT to teach in a group class because everyone is different and everyone will have a different reaction to it — uddiyana bandha aggravates vata for example.

We were told that Krishnamacharya did not believe in kriyas. He said pranayama practice — properly done — was effective enough to cleanse the body of impurities. Desikachar was with us last night and he told us stories of his father, about how Krishnamacharya stopped his own heart for 2 minutes — it was then that Desikachar took up the practice of yoga, when he saw the power of it.”

May his teachings live on in his students around the world.

May Sir have a fortunate rebirth.

what are they teaching out there?

depaul panel

 

The other night I was one of the speakers on this panel discussion in Chicago. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and I was invited to be on this panel by The Breathe Network.  The Breathe Network is an excellent online resource for trauma survivors looking for practitioners of holistic modalities and I am proud to be a member.

It was a great event with a big turnout. The other three presenters spoke about their modalities, Biofeedback, Holistic Psychotherapy, and Reiki. I learned from all three presenters and what was interesting was that we all had a single thing in common, as noted by the moderator:  the BREATH and HOW WE BREATHE can change things for us mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Many of you know that I am a long time student (10+ years) in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition and that the Yoga I teach is all about the breath, a breath centered practice.  I have seen how conscious breathwork can change lives.  Yes, literally, such as with trauma survivors and people with anxiety attacks and major stress.  They learn to self-regulate just as the ancient yogis, the sramanas, discovered that asana and breath can regulate their internal systems.

“Trauma sensitive” and “trauma informed” Yoga are buzzwords in modern Yoga but when I did my four day Trauma Sensitive Yoga training at The Trauma Institute, I realized how the training was a retooling of what I learned at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram insofar as therapeutic yoga.  It was nothing new to me.  The only thing new was the information about the physiology of trauma, the parts of the brain that are affected, and some languaging, the “technical” stuff.

Before I did that training in 2011 I had already been teaching for 6 years to survivors at a domestic violence shelter starting in 2005.  I intuitively knew that what I had learned in India and from my own insight meditation practice would help them.  And it did, tremendously — because it was a breath centered Yoga practice.  The survivors learned how to be in charge of their own physiological systems.

After our 90 minute discussion we had breakout groups where attendees could ask us questions.  I had handouts of articles (one that I wrote) about how Yoga helps with PTSD.  More than a few young people (“young” meaning college age students) took my handouts and then it got interesting — they started telling me about their experiences in Yoga studios.  Note that this was in Chicago so they were talking to me about studios there.

I preface what comes next by saying that I no longer attend public Yoga classes so I don’t know what people are teaching nowadays.  If I do go to a studio it will be to my teacher’s class at the studio where I certified as a teacher 15 years ago (one of the first studios to open in Chicago.)

I take that back — I DID go to a class just last week.  It was a gong meditation plus Yoga class and one of my students came with me.  I know that every teacher is trained differently, has his/her own style, and I am 200% sure there are many who would hate my classes and probably with a vengeance.  But I was stunned at the practice.  Shocked even.

The teacher was also a “woman of a certain age” and whom I know has been teaching longer than me.  There was absolutely no attention paid to the breath.  In fact, I could not even catch my breath because the sun salutation was so fast.  I decided (of course!) to move at my pace with my own breath ratio.

My long time student was incredulous and instead of a calming, grounding practice to go into an hour long gong session (by the way, I was NOT expecting a gentle or restorative practice, just a more mindful one) I felt completely agitated.  This is the reason why I no longer attend public classes taught by teachers whose teaching styles I don’t know.

Each person at my table at DePaul asked me “where do I find a class as you describe?”  Because EACH student told me “I take Yoga but …”  It’s “competitive.”  A “work out.”  “No one talks about the breath.” “I feel intimidated.”  “How should I breathe?”  “They don’t teach meditation.”  If I lived in Chicago instead of 40 miles away I’d probably have a dozen new students now.

Finally, what made me sad was a trauma survivor who told me she went through a teacher training program at a corporate Yoga studio chain.  I won’t say which one but they are all over Chicago and other big cities.  Many times they open down the street from independent studios.

She told me that she went there looking for a more meditative, what she called “spiritual,” YTT.  Instead, she told me the training triggered her PTSD, so much so that she completely stopped her own Yoga practice.  What was worse, she told me, that when she tried to tell her trainers what was happening with her, no one knew how to help her.

She finished the training but no longer practices.  She told me that in order to teach she knows she has to work on herself.  She asked me how to get back on the Yoga horse.  I said slowly and recommended Sarah Powers’ book, Insight Yoga, and her DVDs.  I gave her my card, it was all I could do, and told her to contact me if she got stuck.

After listening to the questions and comments, I was re-inspired to create a teacher training so I had better get my ASSana in gear before I go to India in November.  But I am SO STUCK, I don’t know where to start.  Mainly because I don’t know where to begin in writing a manual.  You can’t charge $3,000 for a training and not have a manual, people expect one after dishing out the dough.  But I only know how to teach OLD SCHOOL, the way I am taught in India.  You sit down, listen, and take notes.  In all my years at KYM the only handouts I have are from asana and meditation classes.  Ten plus years of notes will make a kick ass YTT.  I’ve already decided that this book will be the class text.

But when the day comes when I have a Metta Yoga: Mind-Body Education training you can bet your ASSana that I will have sliding scale payment for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and vets with PTSD.

What the hell are they teaching out there?

 

 

 

 

The Hathayogapradipika|Jyotsnayuta – Dr. Kausthub Desikachar

HYP 1

Yoga teacher Larry Payne had this to say about Kausthub Desikachar‘s new translation of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

The new translation of Hathayogapradipika by Doctor Kausthub Desikachar is a modern classic. His personal footnotes make this classic text “User friendly” for Yoga teachers and serious students. Highly Recommended!

I have to agree.  This is an excellent and valuable book to be added to the Yoga book library of the serious practitioner or Yoga teacher.  A beautifully designed hard cover (with two beautiful drawings of Kali Ma inside) where the wisdom therein is as rich (if not richer) as the outside.

Five forwards in the book are written by Sonia Nelson (Santa Fe, New Mexico), Geeta S. Iyengar (Pune, India), Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani (Pondicherry, India), Frans Moors (Belgium), and Sharath Jois (Mysore, India.)

Sharath Jois writes that “the Hathayogapradipika is especially important because it is a tool that helps to understand the entire system of Yoga practice.”  He writes that Kausthub has revealed a new level of understanding of the HYP.

Sonia Nelson writes that “the quality and use of the English language makes the translations and footnotes fully accessible to serious students willing to give the time and attention needed to digest the content.  …the inclusion of both the Devanagari script and transliteration in the word by word translation provides a useful tool for extensive study.”  Indeed, for a student of Sanskrit alone the book is invaluable.

Kausthub’s aunt, Geeta Iyengar, writes that her nephew has done a “wonderful job of transcribing and translating the whole Samskrta text along with the Jyotsna commentary.  The Hathayogapradipika is such a text that no student of Yoga can bypass it.”  She believes that Kausthub’s footnotes can be seen as his own “modern commentary, making it easier, more relatable and comprehensible to today’s readers.”

In his Introduction Kausthub gives a brief history of the HYP and of the ancient yogis at that time.  I particularly enjoyed this history telling because it echos what Stephen Cope taught in my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training at Spirit Rock in California: that the ancient yogis (the “Skull Men”) were considered rebels, cast out by conventional Brahmin society of the time.  Kausthub writes that the Skull Men had a significant influence on Hathayoga, which evidence can be found through texts such as Sivasamhita and the HYP.

Among other things in the 22 page Introduction Kausthub also writes about whether the HYP is the only Hathayoga text; about the commentator of the HYP, Brahmananda; the special view of Isvara; what is Hathayoga (see photo above) — my students liked my reading this in class.

Given the latest statement about yoga therapy by the Yoga Alliance, of special interest in the Introduction is his section on “Hathayoga and Yoga Therapy.”  Kausthub writes:

One key trend that occurs recurrently throughout the text is the health benefits of the specific tools presented.  Whether in the chapter on Asana, Pranayama or Mudra, the Hathayogapradipika makes claims regarding which illnesses may be warded off through such practices.

This clearly confirms without a doubt that Yoga is indeed a therapeutic tool used by its practitioners over a long period of time.  So to say that Yoga and Yoga Therapy are two different things is against what the tradition of Yoga represents.

***

Then comes the business of organized professional governance.

You’ll have to get the book to find out the rest of the story, i.e., the two problems that governance creates in Kausthub’s opinion.

A sample page:

HYP page

My long time readers know that I have studied in the Krishnamacharya Yoga tradition for 10+ years.  I am grateful and blessed to have been introduced to this lineage by one of Krishnamacharya’s longest standing students, Srivatsa Ramaswami, on his first visit to Chicago.  In fact, he is teaching about the HYP in Chicago in September.  Join me!

If the HYP is mentioned at all in Yoga teacher trainings, the usual text that I’ve seen used in my area (Chicago) is by Swami Muktibodhananda published by the Bihar School of Yoga.  Kausthub’s translation is an excellent addition to your study of the HYP for a side by side comparison.  His is the type of book to be savored, not read quickly (as if the HYP would be a candidate for speed reading!)  It’s always good to have a few different translations of a Yoga text just to see how and who says what.  You can purchase this book directly from his school in Chennai, India.

The Hathayoga journey is not meant for superficial results like having a nice and slim body structure.  Rather it is meant for meaningful psychological and spiritual exploration of oneself and a profound transformation at all levels, that takes us closer to our own potentials and helps manifest them into reality.  (Introduction, p.50.)

That’s authentic Yoga.  The real deal, the good, the bad, and the ugly, wherever the journey takes us.

the bottom line

I returned from India last week dazed and depressed and feeling like I had been deposited onto a different planet.  The fact that the temperature in Chicago was literally 60 degrees colder than what I had experienced for almost three months in South India did not help either.  But here I am for better or for worse.

My trip was a mixed bag of love and hate, positive and negative, joy and sadness, and bittersweetness.   Like life.   The group trip to the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram and yoga retreat in Varkala was a life training, that’s for sure.  Let’s just say: I learned a lot about egos with a capital E and how to deal with them.

The majority of the time it was wonderful (how could it not be when I am in my soul’s home?) and most of the first timers to India were very happy, falling in love with Ma India as I did 8 years ago.  However, for my next retreat — YES, I AM CRAZY ENOUGH TO PLAN TWO YOGA RETREATS FOR 2014! — there will be ground rules in place like, “accept what is offered to you” and “this isn’t about you, it’s about the GROUP.”  Behavior that I deem inappropriate and not conducive to harmonious group dynamics will not be tolerated and people will be asked to leave, no refunds.   Just sayin’.

Amanda the Yogachicky has been writing fabulous posts about the group trip and her first time in India.  We’ve been online friends for a long time and we finally met in Chennai which she chronicled here. You can read about our week at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram here.

Leaving India gets harder and harder for me each time.  My friends there don’t want me to leave and tell me they love me.   One friend hooked me up with a lawyer whom I spoke to about starting a business in India.  No matter where I am whether it’s a big city like Chennai or a bigger city like Mumbai (that I experienced for the first time and had a wonderful time thanks to another online friend — read Sharell’s story on the amazing slum tour we took) or walking the beach in Varkala, a feeling that suddenly makes me weep passes through me like an electric wave.  It is tangible and visceral, that  feeling of being totally in the flow, how what I am doing in that moment feels so natural and perfect and right, much more so than when I am back living where I live.  The feeling of being dropped onto a different planet never hits me when I land in India only upon my return.

One of the participants sent me this quote from Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence  (you can change the pronoun and gender):

I have an idea that some men are born out of their due place.  Accident has cast them amid strangers in their birthplace, and the leafy lanes they have know from childhood or the populous streets in which they have played, remain but a place of passage.  They may spend their whole lives aliens among their kindred and remain aloof among the only scenes they have ever known.

Perhaps it is this sense of strangeness that sends men far and wide in the search for something permanent, to which they may attach themselves.  Perhaps some deep-rooted atavism urges the wanderer back to lands which his ancestors left in the dim beginnings of history.  Sometimes a man hits upon a place to which he mysteriously feels he belongs.  Here is the home he sought, and he will settle amid scenes that he has never seen before, among men he has never known, as though they were familiar to him from his birth.  Here at last he finds rest.”

I started teaching in Varkala.  My style of yoga is eclectic and I taught so that people gradually got into Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Style yoga as I interpret it.  I know I took two people out of their comfort zone with it and with yin yoga.  The bottom line:  I don’t know what the hell type of yoga I teach.  I put no name to it other than “mindful.” I don’t know how to market my style to draw people and we all know that yoga nowadays is all about the marketing.  I guess my students here who’ve been with me since almost Day 1 of my teaching can answer my question because I sure as hell can’t.  I don’t want to be put inside a yoga box because as a friend told me this morning, I was put on earth to shake things up.  So if you dig what I teach, cool; if not, oh well.

In spite of having some less than stellar moments during the group trip, I love showing people my India (not your India, not his India, not her India, but my India.)  A friend tells me that he thinks I am meant to be a Westerner’s guide to India (this friend has agreed to co-teach the next two week retreat in Varkala so stay tuned for those details!)  The prospect of starting a business in India makes ideas swirl in my brain, one of which is running a guesthouse where I can offer yoga classes and energy healing.  We shall see.  Goddess willing.

This is what one person in the group had to say:

“If Lady Luck or good fortune or the grace of god showers you with her serene and beguiling smile a time or two, you may pause in appreciation and recognition that being alive can be, well, pretty darn good. And when that invisible hand so softly and gently guides you to a place beyond which you have only allowed yourself to imagine, you may pinch yourself again and again to be sure you’re not dreaming.

It wasn’t a dream. It was, in fact, two plus weeks of the most in-your-face, raw, sensual, noisy, chaotic, exhilarating, life affirming, life changing, drama-producing, tranquility-inducing living that you might ever ask for. Oh, and loving and lovely, too. It was my first visit to India. All put together by Linda Karl, our guide, interpreter, arranger, teacher and very passionate Indiaphile.

What started with very pedestrian concerns about jet lag and more heartfelt concerns about being half a world away from my family, was immediately seized by Mother India and transformed into an experience that was so far beyond my expectations that I’ll spend the rest of my life sorting it out.

Yes, this was a yoga study trip that included a week with some of the most accomplished teachers you could hope for at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandarim in Chennai. We practiced asana and pranayama, learned about Patanjali’s Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, meditated and, for some of us, used our pitch-challenged voices to bring sound to Vedic chanting. Every day was full and complete and that doesn’t include the walk to KYM on streets filled with noises, smells, sights and sounds that invaded every sensory pore, every moment, unfiltered. It was double Red Bull India.

The second week at Varkala Beach was India light – every bit as real but allowing you to catch your breath. A tropical forest of coconut palms, banana and jack fruit trees and other forms of greenery not found in more familiar climes were set high on a cliff overlooking the Arabian Sea with small shops selling everything Indian and restaurants with the freshest catches of the day and cold Kingfishers to wash it all down. Here each day started with two hours of Linda’s interpretation of Freedom style yoga. The remainder of most days was unplanned and thus afforded time to ease into conversations with the other seven members of our group. For me, this is when the rose came into full bloom. The combination of intense yoga study and practice in a country that gave no quarter to a first time Westerner left me exposed. And into this opening walked seven people who shared some of their most intimate joys and hurts. That’s when I knew this was and will forever be an experience of a lifetime.

Since returning home I have savored innumerable moments and tossed and turned many thoughts. For anyone so inclined, ever how slightly, to consider making his or her own visit to India, allow Linda be your guide. Timshel.”

It’s the most beautiful thing a student can say about the experience a teacher offers them.

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Mumbai sunset
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a car like me: outside the box
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the money shot: in Mumbai market
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in the Freedom Style flow with Alicia Keys music
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where my heart is: Varkala
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Mumbai plate seller
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up close and personal with Ganesha
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in the ladies’ car, Mumbai
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Ganesh Mohan with his father, A.G. Mohan: yoga therapy training, Chennai
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rockin’ out to Freedom Style

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UPDATE: who wants to go to India?

looking toward south cliff, Varkala, Kerala
the Heart of Yoga, Chennai

That’s a serious question.

Long time readers know that I started studying at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in 2005.  I thought back then that I would never return to KYM or to India, I thought it was a one-time thing.  Little did I know that I would return to KYM only 6 months later in 2006 and that I would be blessed enough to return there yearly.   Who knew what a grip India would have on my heart?  Who knew that the longer I study in this lineage the more I know that I can study here the rest of my life?  It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage.

The senior teachers know me by name now.  When I walked into the building on the first day of training this year I was greeted like an old friend and it did my heart good.   The intensive, “Discover Yoga Anatomy”, was amazing.  It truly was an advanced training, beyond asana, on a deeper level.  Although the teachers have studied with Desikachar for years and years, they are still students of yoga.  One of my favorite teachers said she is still learning, that they learn from us and from each other.  They are humble.  One touches the feet of Krishnamacharya in his photo portrait that is the classroom.  They are not afraid to use the word “guru.”

I have scheduled the week of March 11-15, 2013 for taking a group for private classes.  I have scheduled an asana class; theory and practice of pranayama; chanting; meditation; class on the Sutras; and an introductory class on the Bhagavad Gita, 6 classes daily for five days.   The classes will be geared toward the students’  yoga experience.  When I was there an American yoga teacher had brought 18 people with her.  My group will be limited to 12, and I need a minimum of 6 people for the trip to happen.

After that week, I will lead a yin-yang yoga retreat March 16-24 in Varkala, Kerala.  In between my trainings, before I went to KYM, I spent 15 days in Varkala, a place where I had never been.   In fact, I spent 10 days, returned to Chennai, and then flew back to Varkala because I missed the vibe and the friends I had made so much.  They did not want me to leave.

Varkala has a chill vibe, as people there say, and I thought I would be put off by all the westerners.  I must say I had some culture shock when I arrived because I had never been with so many westerners before in my travels (apart from KYM.)  But I grew to love it.  The place is a mix of backpackers, package tourist groups, retirees, old hippies, young hippies, and families with children.  It’s easy.  Real easy.  And it would be a great place to chill after the cacophony of Chennai.  Besides which, ladies, you can get some great yoga pants made for about $10 by the tailors on the clifftop, pants that sell in the US for 7 times the price — I had 4 made.

The retreat — where I will teach one class in the morning — will be here.  I have already booked all the cottages facing the pool.  Double occupancy only so bring a friend!

I had energy work done by an amazing energy worker so a session with her and a dinner party in her garden on our last night are included in the price.  Ayurvedic consulations are available as well.  I had a back issue for five years (thanks to being Miss Gumby all my life) and after doing the yoga therapy practice every day that I learned in my first training and having medical ayurvedic treatments for 7 days at this place, I now wake up pain free — and I still do my yoga therapy practice.  The Varkala resort has its own ayurvedic doctor or there are many choices in Varkala.

Other activities are available if you want to run around, but I guarantee that chilling on the beach, eating fresh food every day, and meeting great people will be enough for some.

You will arrange the domestic RT flight from Chennai-Trivandrum and the 5 star hotel in Chennai before flying home on March 25 (very early morning) with my travel agent.  Those prices are NOT included in my package price.

PACKAGE PRICE IS $1,950.00 (OR $1,925.00 for one garden view cottage at Varkala resort) WITH A PORTION OF YOUR PAYMENT GOING TO THE BANYAN, A WOMEN’S SHELTER IN CHENNAI.

THE BEST PART IS THAT I AM GIVING A $100 DISCOUNT IF YOU MAKE ONE PAYMENT IN FULL BY JANUARY 1, 2013!

YOU CAN REGISTER AND PAY NOW ON MY WEBSITE PAGE.

ASK ME ABOUT THE “NO YOGA” RATE IF YOUR FRIEND/PARTNER WANTS TO ACCOMPANY YOU BUT DOESN’T WANT TO PARTAKE IN YOGA.

You are responsible for your international and domestic flights, one day/night stay your last 24 hours in Chennai, your Indian visa, food other than breakfast, sight-seeing, ayurvedic treatments in Kerala (if so desired), tips, and ground transportation in Chennai and Varkala.  Please be aware that your India visa starts on the day it is issued, NOT when you land in India.

This trip will be geared toward yoga teachers, serious practitioners, and those who are independent travelers and who can go with the flow.  I won’t sugar-coat it:  Ma India can kick your ass but good.  It did mine the beginning of this trip, my 6th, and then I surrendered and let go.  Once I did that, all was good.

The entire trip will be from March 10-March 24 (arrange  your flight to leave Monday, March 25 or thereafter.)  You must spend a day decompressing from your flight to India and acclimating a bit before KYM classes start on Monday, March 11.  However, I can tell you that after 6 trips with 16+ hour flights to India, I do not have jet lag when I arrive — I hit the ground running.

I’m throwing this out to the Universe.  Doing the best I can and letting the rest go.

Let me know your interest.

not where I had my treatment — I liked the sign!
looking healthy and happy in Varkala