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….


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.


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.

The Hathayogapradipika|Jyotsnayuta – Dr. Kausthub Desikachar


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.

let’s give ’em something to talk about

Fasten your seatbelts, kids!  I’ve seen a flurry of articles about yoga on Facebook that SCREAM for pithy comments!

Here goes:

Tony Perkins Upset That ‘Goofy’ Yoga Classes ‘Driving Religion Out’ Of Military

Christian conservative leader Tony Perkins is upset — this time, about yoga classes being offered to military members.

Why? Because the “goofy” style of exercise has been used as a “wacky” substitute for a “personal relationship with God,” effectively driving religion out of the military.

My first thought on that was hmmmmm……maybe if yoga was not taught as strictly a fitness regimen in many places (“power” yoga, “yoga boot camp”, etc.) and the therapeutic (healing for both body and mind) aspects were emphasized, maybe this guy wouldn’t think it was a “goofy style of exercise.”  Maybe if he knew that real yoga is all about healing and transformation……  but I know I ask for too much.

I am  not talking about yoga therapy.  I am talking about therapeutic aspects of yoga in general.  I don’t separate the therapeutic aspects in my classes.  I occasionally do private yoga therapy sessions (such as trauma sensitive yoga), but I consider ALL my classes therapeutic in one way or another.  In western yoga culture, there is yoga and then there is yoga therapy.  Separation.  Duality.  No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”   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.   When people lined up down the street outside his door he prescribed practices for them based on their individual needs, asana+pranayama+meditation.  It was just yoga.  It saddens me that I still have to explain to people that yoga heals, it’s not all about getting your ass kicked in a yoga class.

Actor, columnist, cook: Meet Yoga’s glamour girl Kathryn Budig

Damn, and I thought I was yoga’s glamour girl!  Ripped off again!  A comment from my Facebook page:  “‘she realized she was meant to be a yoga teacher.’  I never had that realization.  Rather, my teachers told me.  And I resisted.”

My teacher also told me to become a teacher and I resisted, too, but I became a teacher at 48, an age that some people think you’re all washed up.  I read something the other day:  in this culture when a woman hits her 50s she becomes invisible to men.  When a woman hits her 60s she becomes invisible to other women.   Good thing Ms. Budig is already a sensation at the ripe age of 29.

A New Year’s Resolution for Queer and Trans People of Color: Forget the Gym, Occupy Yoga Studios

This piece rocks!  I absolutely love it.  Although I am not black/brown/L/B or T, I feel the same way:

I’m tired of Googling “yoga” only to have images spat back at me that scream entitlement–the kind of entitlement that comes with being able to pay $18 for a class that takes place in some bourgie studio with the words “om” and “namaste” printed on everything and giant pictures of the Hindu God Ganesha everywhere.

I’ll tell you what I’m tired of:  yoga bleaching. 

yoga bleaching: 1. a form of marketing in which yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle is used to make an otherwise unrelated product appear to be in line with yogic principles. 2. the act of using yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle to sell an unrelated product. 3. a form of spin or marketing intended to deceive consumers into believing that a product is related to yogic practice or theory when in fact it is not.

The local studio is selling a natural deodorant with the name of DeOm.  Yes, you read it correctly:  DE OM with a conspicuous AUM symbol on the bottle.  It was created by a teacher at the studio using minerals and organic herbs.  You can sweat like a horse in your hot vinyasa class but not stink like a street in India:

pondicherry sign

Now I am all for women entrepreneurs and I know the teacher; she’s very nice, I like her, and I hope she makes a lot of money, I really do.   HOWEVER…..using a sacred symbol to push your product a la yoga bleaching makes me all types of itchy.  A different name and image perhaps such as LOTUS, even AKASHA?  I would probably buy a natural deodorant named Lotus or Akasha but wiping something with the AUM symbol under my arms?  But hey, that’s me.

Would it be any different if I invented some new fangled toilet paper and named it “Jesus Wipes” and put His image on it?

Just askin’.

Not Your Parents’ Yoga

Jason Brown once again knocks it out of the park:

Among serious-minded practitioners, there is palpable discontent with the course the yoga industry seems to be on. Teachers, who in the past were voices defining what yoga is in the 21st century, are now understandably more concerned with enjoying their latter years than attempting to push back against entrenched forces that care little for the soul of yoga. The newer generation has often been thrown out into the wilderness without the tools or knowledge to fulfill their impulse to carry the torch. In the absence of teachers framing the conversation and defining yoga in authentic ways, the market will always fill the gap with whatever sells….

One of my readers here wrote to me and said how refreshing it was to see someone doing “old school” with no apologies. There is much to be said about staying true to yourself and not caving to mainstream.  I may not have lots of students because I no longer teach in studios but as a friend told me, I and my students have created a true sangha, old school yoga way.

Folks are not buying just anything as yoga anymore. And they are telling their friends. The rampant commercialization and co-opting of yoga has become so overblown that even the unfamiliar are skeptical. Times remain too tough to effectively continue hocking candy-coated platitudes. From out of the daunting malaise of pressures and seeming demise, conditions are becoming more ripe to slough off obsolete thinking. No more will we be led around by false gurus or complacent with hypocrisies. No longer will success be defined by status or achieved at the expense of others.  We can and will do better. Let us have the courage to imagine it so.

I’m certainly not a yoga sensation like Ms. Budig but when a woman younger than her tells this Crone, “You are a life saver.  Without you I would be a stressed out 20 year old bitching about everything.  Now I live my life and I’m writing my own story and I have never felt better.  I tell everyone about you and how you guide people to find not only  happiness but themselves.  I thank you for opening my eyes to that.”….

….. THAT is success.  Priceless.

The New Mantra: Replacing ‘Om’ With ‘Glam’

The athletic-wear company Lululemon, known for its yoga togs, introduced a meditation-specific capsule collection in fall 2012, with pieces retailing at relatively affordable prices, including a Devotion Long-Sleeve Tee ($68) and an Intuition Sweater Wrap ($178) that doubles as a meditation blanket. With its extra-deep hood, the Please Me Pullover ($118) is perfect to wear during Zen Buddhist meditation practice, said Amanda Casgar, a spokeswoman for the company, since during the process “you keep your eyes open but focus on a point on the floor in front of you. Pulling the hood right down over your eyes automatically creates that line of sight,” she said.
For the more affluent enthusiast, Donna Karan’s Urban Zen line, affiliated with her charitable wellness foundation of the same name, has become a popular choice (sweat pants, $995).

Oh.  My.  Goddess.  How the hell did anyone meditate before the Please Me Pullover?!?  I mean, really?  Apparently these guys don’t know a damn thing about yoga and meditation ’cause they’re all nekkid!  How did they survive all these years?

Real Yogis, Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, 2010

“When meditating, the author Gabrielle Bernstein avoids belts or drawstring pants. “Tying anything to your body blocks the energy flow,” she said.”  Please show me the palm leaf in India where that is written.   Is that in the secret palm leaf library in Tamil Nadu?

Note the traditional red string tied around the waists of these babas.

Just sayin’.

Lastly, while this is not a post on yoga per se, I believe it is relevant considering the NYT piece.

Creativist Manifesto:  Consumer v. Creator

I think it absolutely ties in with modern yoga.

Being a consumer means accepting an essentially passive role in our life, one in which we seek fulfillment through the accumulation of stuff, whether it be material goods, a high status job, or even in terms of our relationships.

And yet, increasingly, we know that living our life as consumers is damaging us—damaging us as individuals and as a society, and damaging the earth that supports us. As consumers, we are left searching for that which will give meaning to our lives, as we fail to find lasting satisfaction in consumption….

Instead of seeing ourselves as consumers, I believe we need to see ourselves as Creativists.

A Creativist is a person who creates and connects and acts. Creativists are connected with who they are and are driven from the inside out, rather than being defined by a position as a consumer in society. Creativists fulfill their need to create which is part of all of us. Creativists use their gifts, and in doing so connect with others and in turn society benefits.

The distinction is clear. Consume versus Create. And the forces of consume versus create contain within them a series of choices that we make everyday in our lives—in our relationships, at work and in our communities.

And that’s why Yoga — REAL Yoga — is a radical act.  As Krishnamacharya said, “Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.”  Real Yoga enables us to make appropriate choices for our relationships, work, and communities.

The renouncers of the Vedic rituals, the ancient yogis, the sramanas,  were radicals who made the choice to break free of mainstream 8th Century BC.

No special clothes required.

what’s the line between ego and service?

Sometimes readers email me to shoot the breeze about yoga stuff.  Last week a reader and Facebook friend wondered about this (he gave me permission to quote him.)  He said:

“I had a conversation with my mentor…whom has been my connection to the Krishnamacharya lineage.  We were discussing the effects of traditional systems vs. Innovative systems, most specifically the relationship between Ego and a teacher’s “need” to innovate.

Obviously one of the key features of Krishnamacharya’s teaching was the importance of adaptation of the practice to suit the individual…..and American teachers seem to be very good at adaptation….but that adaptation seems to be more about their own ego and “self value” in creating the newest and most “effective/clever” system of Yoga.

I’m not really asking a direct question, but more your thoughts, maybe you’ve written something of similar subject?  I figure your being connected with KYM, this is something you guys discussed?”

Interesting discussion!

I actually have never written about this and in all my times at KYM, this topic has never come up.  If I understand the question correctly, it is:  where does the ego and service, so to speak, separate?

I can’t comment on what other teachers “invent”….Anusara, Forrest yoga, etc.  Does it come out of their ego on wanting to control or change things?  I don’t know.  Someone once said that I created METTA YOGA.  Did I?  I don’t know.  I say that Metta Yoga is the Yoga of Awareness, i.e. being awake to reality, all the good and especially the bad, our shadows.  All I know is what informs my practice:  trainings at KYM, with Srivatsa Ramaswami, Buddhism.  “My” yoga is all about the breath, meeting people where they are (both aspects being totally KYM), being aware of what is happening now (the Buddhadharma.)  Yoga, for me, must contain pranayama and meditation for it to be called Yoga, but that’s me, that’s the lineage in which I study.  Am I going to totally spin the teachings to suit my own purpose?  No, because to me Real Yoga (and I don’t care if that phrase upsets people) is about Transformation and Healing.

We all know what happened with John Friend and Anusara…karma?  And people applaud Ana Forrest’s “new” way of teaching — isn’t it supposed to be a bit more therapeutic now?  I’ve been teaching that way for years, i.e., about watching what comes up, digging down to face your demons.  In my opinion, she did not come up with anything brand new.

No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist.”  When I was in India this year, A.G. Mohan told us that Indians did not come to see Krishnamacharya for “yoga for fitness”, i.e., purely asana practice.  They lined up literally down the street to see him for yoga for depression, bad backs, and other conditions.  He did not teach “yoga therapy”, IT WAS JUST YOGA.  So did he change what he learned from his gurus?  Of course he met the individuals where they were, we know that he taught Iyengar, Jois, and his son Desikachar differently because that’s how those styles evolved.  But did he make up something that was dramatically different from what his gurus taught him?  I don’t think so.

All I know is that I must meet people where they are and as Desikachar has said, whatever happens, happens.

What I do know is that in the end, it’s all the same, really.  What did Friend create?  Anusara is Iyengar inspired and he put a new spin on things, his whole tantra-esque thinking is nothing new, he just made it sexy palatable for Westerners.

After I responded, the reader went on to say that “the direction American Yoga is moving in is pretty darn interesting.  In fact, over contemplating your email, I started wondering what drives most Western yoga students to become “teachers” in the first place, let alone trying to reinvent their “own” system.   Part of it, I’m assuming, is the ego wanting this seemingly luxurious life of being a yoga teacher……because let’s face it, the way most Americans work their lives away pretty much sucks!  The American Dream has essentially become Corporate Slavery.

I think Americans turn to Yoga because it almost seems like a way out.   In a way, it’s a very distorted approach to Moksha!
The other reason I think students are going the “teacher” route is that it kind of offers students a way of deepening their own Yoga practice/sadhana — [quoting his teacher] “teaching is a fierce sadhana”.   Ain’t that the f%$#ing truth!  I think American yoga students do want and are hungry for more than just “asana classes” so why not go through a teacher training course!  They are always also described as an “opportunity to deepen one’s own practice”!  I think the American yoga community is maturing enough as a whole to realize there has to be something more to yoga than just asana…..hence so much innovation and crazy weird shit happening in yoga classes.

As bad a rep as the Guru principle has received in the US, I think it’s a missing element.  The idea that a teacher has done the long hard journey and come back to help others along.  Not to say they are totally missing….but I think there is a lack of very experienced teachers amongst the yoga population here.  And the ones that are around are too busy traveling around teaching workshops to thousands of students around the country rather than working closely with a student for a long long time!”

I absolutely agree that the the missing piece is having a Guru or at least a long-term relationship with one teacher which I kinda sorta wrote about here:

As for everyone doing teacher trainings, I personally think there are TOO MANY teacher trainings.  It feeds into what I wrote about babies teaching babies…. — which ironically has a video of John Friend!  Hey, who knew, right? 😉

As for yoga teacher trainings helping someone to “deepen” their own practice….really?  In what way?  Always?  For everyone?  I tell my students that if their path is the length and width of their yoga mat, that ain’t much of a path.   How are you treating people, what are you saying to people?  “Deepening your practice” is a loaded phrase.

I believe that teacher trainers do a disservice in taking everyone into their training, like those who have been doing yoga for a month.  Uh, no.  If I did my own training my requirement would be one year of solid yoga practice, at least once a week.  I am damn old school.  I was a student for 7 years before I became a teacher, not 7 weeks.

Another question to ask is, is yoga teaching a job or a way of life?  I know what it is for me.  I don’t care anymore about “success”, I just feel blessed to teach the students who seek me out in my home shala.   I did not want to come back from India this year, I wanted to stay in India and study study study.  On that false merit of prestige and “success” as a teacher:

“What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.


Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.


Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

Talk amongst yourselves.

“Transformation in Yoga Philosophy” – a lecture by Kausthub Desikachar, 3/7/12


This is the first of four posts on lectures given by Kausthub Desikachar and A.G. Mohan during my two trainings in India during February and March.  I will say, yet again, that I have been blessed beyond belief to have been introduced into the Krishnamacharya lineage as early as I was in my teaching career.  Even after 10 years of teaching, these last two trainings confirmed (again) how vast yoga is, that no matter how many people I have studied with, there is always so much more to learn.  I will never call myself an expert.  It is an honor and a responsibility to be a representative of this lineage.  I hope I can always convey as authentically as possible what I have learned via my trainings in this tradition.

For those who don’t know, Kausthub is the son of T.K.V.  Desikachar, who is the son of Krishnamacharya, the grandfather of modern yoga.


Transformation begins with a serious practice of yoga.  Throughout the lecture Kausthub emphasized a serious practice of yoga — yoga beyond asana, yoga that is more than skin deep.  He said that according to some ancient texts there are four stages of transformation, other texts talk about 7 stages.   In his lecture he dealt with the Upanisads and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika that talk about our personal transformation having four stages.

It is Kausthub’s belief that not even 5% of people practicing yoga today are in the first stage of transformation, i.e , the state where prana begins to move fluidly in the body (prana being the life force, not merely the breath as is frequently taught in modern yoga.)   He said that most yoga practitioners don’t know what prana really is because they only know asana.  This knowledge of prana does not come from a casual yoga practice; it does not come from a practice that is only about the physical.  Transformation begins when your yoga transcends the body.

The first stage of transformation is when prana flows smoothly throughout the body.  Our perception become very sensitive.  Patanjali speaks to this in YS 3.36.  Our senses change, everything heightens, our sensations are beyond memory and all these happenings really can’t be explained in tangible terms.

At this stage it is very common for people to stop their yoga practice because their entity is so different now, it is discomforting, it is out of the norm.  Our perceptions are altered on a deeper level and this changes our relationships with people, with partners, and sometimes people want to change jobs.  However, Kausthub said that this is not the time to make dramatic decisions.

At the second stage of transformation, there is an identity crisis.  We start feeling like crap.  Our internal drums are beating and there is a loud noise inside us that disturbs our structural foundation, the way we have been accustomed to for so many years.  Our mental patterns are challlenged, our outlook changes, but again, try to make no changes….yet.

This is another stage where people leave their practice, we want to continue but we can’t because things are even more discomforting.  This is the time to especially sustain the practice.  Kausthub said that it is at the end of this second stage that collapse often happens and depression can set in.  The ancient yogis said LET IT COLLAPSE.  Just as an old building starts to collapse, no matter how much you try to prop it up, it’s not the same.  Let it collapse and then build a new foundation for a new building.  This is progress.

The third stage is when new patterns start to manifest, the new structures are built.  Let whatever is new come up slowly, don’t grasp.  It is only by not grasping do these patterns sustain themselves.

The fourth stage is freedom, not bound by any patterns, but this is a stage that few people reach.  It is difficult in modern times because we are still attached to so many things.

There was a different teacher-student role in every stage of transformation.  That is the way it was in the olden days as my teacher Ramaswami calls the ancient times which is very different from now.   In the olden days, yoga was taught one-on-one, teachers did not teach to 300 at a yoga conference.  There was absolute trust between teacher and student and the teacher was the platform of support for the student when the student’s structure was changing.

Kausthub believes that model is seriously lacking in modern yoga.  Back in the day this teacher-student model was taken for granted but nowadays it is not consistent because there are too many styles of yoga and many of the giants of yoga who could lead people in these transformations are now dead.  As for yoga teachers nowadays, Kausthub said that if anyone tells you something is absolute, like “this pose will always help X”, “this pose will cure X”, “X pranayama will change this”, know that it’s bullshit because nothing is absolute.  Every mind, every body, every day is different.

  The tools of yoga (asana, pranayama, meditation) don’t have power on their own; their power comes from the way they are practiced.  He gave an example of child’s pose:  it’s called child’s pose because it’s so easy a child can do.  Do it over and over without any emphasis on the breath or mental awareness and it’s just movement.  But taking 15 seconds to do it with emphasis on the breath and mental awareness has power because you are releasing your prana in a totally different way.

Don’t evaluate your yoga by your level of flexibility or your ability to get into a pretzel pose — only evaluate your yoga by the transformative effect it has on you.  When someone asked Kausthub “how do I find a teacher like you are talking about?”, he said “instead of looking for a teacher, ask if YOU are ready to be a student.  Seek to be a student first, then you will you find your teacher.”

Referencing current problems in modern  yoga, Kausthub said the main problem, in his opinion, is that anyone can be a yoga teacher nowadays.  Everyone wants to be a teacher but there is no accountability.  Of course training is important, but being a good teacher is not about how much you know but is about your transformation.  A serious question to ask is:  if someone is going through these stages of transformation, and their teacher just graduated from a 200 hour training, how in the world can a newbie teacher cope with the questions that student will ask if the teacher herself has not experienced those stages yet?  In the olden days, a teacher always needed their own teacher before they could call themselves an ACHARYA, and that practice no longer exists in modern yoga.  Because anyone can call themselves anything nowadays!  Look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  Kausthub said his father and grandfather were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they had a passion for the teachings.  That is what makes a great teacher.  Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

Making a veiled reference to Friendgate, Kausthub said this is not the first time yoga has faced difficulties.  If the spiritual teachings are valid, yoga will sustain; if yoga is merely a fashion, it will not sustain.   The teachings are much larger than any crisis modern yoga is currently experiencing.

who’s afraid of the big bad guru?

It has always struck me how Western yoga peeps are afraid of the word “guru.”  I’ve gotten into it with a well-known yoga blogger about the use of the word guru, her argument being that somehow there is something inherently bad or negative about the word.   We give words their power.   There are different definitions for guru:  venerable, weighty, teacher, dispeller of darkness.  In Buddhism a guru is seen as a teacher or a spiritual friend.  So many connotations on such a simple word yet so many problems associated with it.  That’s what happens when we look outside ourselves for our identity.  We become lost and confused.

I was happy to be in India when the John Friend scandal broke.  Yawn.  That’s when the discussions of guru began.   I have no problem with so many seemingly intelligent people calling him a guru.  But I think the entire debacle raises questions on WHY so many people got hood-winked.  What does that say about them?  What were THEY lacking in their lives that they entrusted their identities, indeed their yoga souls, to someone like Friend?  People can argue that we all have the need to belong to a group, we all need to feel wanted, praised, loved, but at what price?  Just because the Kula Kids gave up their identities to a charismatic charletan, does not make the concept of guru bad.

I have been called a guru, albeit in India, and I don’t have an entourage like Friend.  When I am in India and people find out I am a yoga teacher they automatically ask “who is your guru?”  People have touched my feet in India, especially at the Kumbh Mela.  I know that would shock people here and the first time it happened I was taken aback, but I realized, that’s what people do.  I did not automatically think that I am any more special or more important than they are.

Kausthub Desikachar spoke to us twice during my training this month and he spoke about the teacher-student relationship.  He said yoga students should look for a teacher who has a current relationship with a teacher, but to focus on the teachings, not the teacher.  He told us that people would always tell him how wonderful it is to have Desikachar as a father, how wonderful it must have been to have Krishnamacharya for a grandfather, that they must have been the perfect teachers.  He told us, no, they were not perfect men, they were not perfect teachers, but they were passionate about the teachings, that the teachings of yoga are much more important than Krishnamacharya or Desikachar.  Kausthub said that if one reads the Sutra-s carefully, Patanjali did not say if we practice authentic yoga that we will not have any problems, we will only have less klesas.   Freedom is not about being perfect, it’s about making friends with your imperfections.

I read on a yoga teacher’s website the other day that she is an “expert in all things yoga.”  Wow.  Does that make her a guru?  Instead of wanting to learn more about her, that makes me run like hell.  I have never heard the teachers at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram say they were experts in anything.  In fact, in spite of some of them studying with Desikachar for 10 or more years, during my training they said they are still learning from him, from each other, and from us, the students who come to sit at their feet.   Humility bespeaks a true yogi.

So put down that smartphone, look someone in the eye, and listen mindfully next time they speak to you.  That person might be your next guru.  Not the rock star yoga teacher you idolize at the yoga conference, not the yoga teacher you pay thousands of dollars to for a teacher training, but your next door neighbor.  Or a homeless person.  Or a domestic violence survivor.

I am blessed with serendipitious meetings when I am India and one of them was during my last weekend in India.  In a land where even the beggars have cell phones, this man does not have one.  He does not do email and he did not know what Wikipedia was until I told him.  He is a wealthy man, a movie distributor whose father was a famous film director in 1950s Bollywood and whose mother was a well-known musician who played at Woodstock.  Yet, one of the most unassuming men I have ever met.  We talked about the cell phone phenomena, about how people feel lost without them, AS IF constantly checking emails and Facebook and Twitter gives them their identity.  He said, “I see people all the time in restaurants, they are out together but not talking, they’re always checking their phones.  Nincompoops.”  He said they were missing life, missing connecting with someone who could be their teacher.  A guru.

My friend said he does not allow people to make or receive calls when they are in his flat, only in emergencies, only if it is an absolute necessity.  He makes them go outside because he finds it rude and distracting.  This, in a country where there are more cell phones than toilets.  I’ve decided that next time I am talking with someone who is more interested in swiping their smartphone or checking Google Maps, I’m going to stop talking and wait for them to practice mindful listening.

We spent 17 hours together during my last weekend in India.  No computers, no phones — only walking, talking, drinking tea.  And always mindfully listening to each other’s guru.

Because you never know who that might be.

wisdom from my teacher: “Spinal Exercise”

Here is the latest newsletter from my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami, the yoga master I met in 2003 who inspired me to travel to the heart of yoga.  Here also are links to his newsletters from 2009 and 2010, a wealth of yoga information from the longest standing student of Sri Krishnamacharya:

Ramaswami’s Newsletters Vol. 1

Ramaswami’s Newsletters Vol. 2

Each volume has a search function, so you can search for “mudra”, for example, and find 15 references.  Thanks to Krisztian Krutzler for preparing these downloadable docs.

If you are in the Chicago area and want to study with a true  yoga master, come to the Chicago Yoga Center, September 9-18.  Ramaswamiji will offer a two hour program on mantras on the 9th and a 10 hour program on the last two chapters of the Yoga Sutras on 10th and 11th. There is also a 25 hour certificate program on Core Vinyasakrama asanas and a 10 hour program on asana, pranayama and meditation on the 17th and 18th.



I have not been writing about Asanas for quite sometime.  I have covered a lot of ground in my Vinyasakrama book and also in the earlier book, Yoga for Three Stages of Life.  I thought though I could write about asana again- of course, nothing entirely new but a
different angle.

It is said that one of the main aims of asana and pranayama practice (Hata Yoga) is to maintain the health of the backbone.  It is a common refrain that one is as old as the condition of the backbone.  And some of the most charming postures of yoga involve the many positions of the spine.  Parsva Bhangi, Matsyendrasana, Akunchanasana, Kapotasana.  Paschimatanasana and a host of other poses bring out the majesty and
the versatility of one of God’s marvelous engineering creations called the spine.

The spine has been the center of attention of several systems, like the chiropractics. Among Yogis, Kundalini Yoga and Hata Yoga can be considered to be spine centric.  The one bone assembly, the backbone is not straight but one that is curved back(kyphosis) and forward (lordosis) and the yogis try to make it straight at least during the time they sit and meditate so that the Kundalini is aroused and moved through the sushumna in the spinal column as per the Kundalini Yoga or the integrated prana moves through the sushumna as the Hatayogis explain hatayoga.

The spine can be divided into different sections for study and practice.  The bottom is the tailbone or coccyx which is curved and has three to five tiny vertebrae.  It stays beneath the pelvis.  There is some mobility in it but we do not pay much attention to it until one
falls on the butts.  A few years back, already an old man, I tried to carry a teapoy down the stairs in my house.  I was wearing hard slippers and as I overstepped a step I slipped (I had the slippers on, you see) and fell heavily on my butts.  The teapoy (tea table) broke and we had to discard it.  I was in great pain.  My wife took me to a hospital immediately for a precautionary X ray which did not reveal any damage (not broken like the furniture).  But the orthopedist warned me that I may have some recurring pain in the coccyx region when I sit for a long time.  For a period of time whenever I did long travel, like from NJ to Los Angeles, I used to feel a lot of pain sitting.  So I know where the tailbone is.

The backbone although it is one assembly has different sections each having its own idiosyncrasy, so when exercising the backbone one has to pay attention to each section. The tailbone/coccyx, sacrum, lumbar, thoracic and cervical sections have their distinct characteristics.  The muladhara chakra is associated with coccyx, the svadhishtana
chakra is linked to the sacral region, the manipuraka with the lumbar region, then we have anahata with the thoracic spine and the vishuddhi chakra is in the cervical region.  The spinal column descends from the occipital region and we have the aajna chakra in that region and the sahasrara is in the cranial region.  The tailbone is the baby of the
assembly at the bottom and tucked nicely but is surrounded by heavy muscles and tissues and protected well.  It has some mobility.  Since it is the root of the spine it is also known among Yogis as the Mula.  Since both Hata Yoga and Kundalini Yoga are predominantly connected with the spine the mula becomes an important aspect of yoga. When one wants to work with the spine, it, the coccyx, should be firmly anchored.

Let us consider the example of the fishing rod (old times).  It has a flexible pole, a string and the bait. (sorry I could not think of an ahimsa example).  One holds the pole at the far end and when the bait is taken, the pole bends. The fisherman will have to hold the pole firmly so that the pole can bend to the extent required, even though there will be some play or movement in the hand of the holder.  Further he has to hold at the farthest point, holding a bit inside the pole reduces the leverage and the pole will not bend sufficiently.

The coccyx and sacrum (sacro-coccygeal section) are at the bottom of the backbone. The coccyx is at the very end of the spine.  It represents a vestigial tail (hence the common term tailbone) and consists of three to five very small bones fused together. There is limited movement between these bones permitted by fibrous joints and ligaments. The sacrum is a large triangular bone at the base of the spine and at the upper and back part of the pelvic cavity and where it is ‘inserted’ like a bone wedged between the two hip bones. Its upper part  is connected to the last lumbar vertebra and the bottom part to
the coccyx.   In children it consists normally of five unfused vertebrae which begin fusing around 16 years and become completely fused around 26.  It is kyphotic (curved, concavity facing forward). Even so, it is now an established fact that the sacrum moves between the ilia by both ambulatory and respiratory motions.  It would therefore point to the
logic of the use of fuller breathing in vinyasa movements as in Vinyasa Krama.

So the mula or the tail bone will have to be held firmly during the spinal exercises.  And the yogis used the well known technique called mulabandha which is contracting a few groups of muscles surrounding the tailbone:  the perineum, rectum and the gluteal muscles.  All
spinal movements, the forward bend,the rounded back, the turn, the back bend, the side bend, all will be better if the mula is gripped firmly and engaged.

Now let us consider the different types of spinal movements.  The turning or twisting movement has to emanate from the mula and my Guru had a couple of asana vinyasas to provide for this movement.  The Jataraparivrittis efficiently engage the tailbone and the next
immediate section sacrum.  Please refer to my book The Complete book of Vinyasa Yoga (pages 105,106,119,121,122).  Tatakamudra (page 105) by anchoring the sacro-coccygial portion of the spine helps to stretch it. These are some of the very early exercises my Guru used to teach to almost all the students.

For the back bending exercises it is necessary to protect the lumbar spine. Towards that, the flexibility and the strength of the sacro-coccygeal region is to be necessarily cultivated. The pelvic push is efficiently facilitated by a simple but effective asana called dwipadapeetam (pages109-115) or desk pose.  This posture which is casually practiced with the feet apart and thighs spread out leaves out the the spine in the pelvic region. Hence it is necessary to keep the feet together, tighten the gluteal muscles, draw in the rectum and gently push the tailbone/sacrum up and feel a healthy stretch at the
bottom of the spine. Any back bending done without fully involving the sacro coccygial region is a less efficient back bend and tends to put more strain on the lumbar spine. Again my Guru used this posture to teach to almost anyone.  This upward pelvic push is to be done on inhalation generally but, it can be done while exhaling smoothly by the elderly, the obese, the pregnant, the highly strung etc.  Because the feet and back of the head are well anchored it becomes easy to control the back bend very well and one can improve the stretch step by step.  Other poses that are in this group would be catushpada peetam
or Table pose ( page79 ) and Purvatanasana or the anterior stretch pose (pages78,79). The other back-bends in the prone poses such as Bhujangasana, dhanurasana and salabhasana (pages 138-145) also may be done with the thighs and feet together to keep the sacrum and tailbone engaged and stretchered.  To ensure this condition, the teacher may ask the student to keep the feet and thighs together by placing a piece of paper between the feet  and not let the paper drop to the floor while raising the legs up in asana like Salabhasana.  In these prone exercises keeping the legs together enables to exercise all parts of the spine, especially the oft neglected sacro-coccygeal area.

The sacral/pelvic tilt also is an important movement in the context of forward bending.  This is achieved best in balasana or forward bend in Vajrasana (page 179,180) first and then in paschimatanasana (page 75-77) or the posterior stretch pose.  Those who are able to engage the muscles surrounding the sacrum and coccyx are able to achieve a good forward bend facilitated by the tilting or tipping of the pelvis. One procedure that will be helpful is for the teacher or a friend to support the sacrum with both the hands and push forward and down on exhalation and allow the subject to return to dandasana on inhalation while still maintaining the healthy pressure.  It may be good to maintain the pressure for a while in the posture pushing forward and down on each long exhalation and then holding it on inhalation.  Over a period the practitioner would be able to use the group of muscles at the base of the spine and stretch the muscles of the sacral region.

Then we have the important movement of lifting and holding the tailbone/sacrum up, by pulling up the waist and hips.  Here the muscles of the hip joints are brought into play.  This can be done in the beginning of tadansana sequence itself.  When the subject raises the
arms (page 4-5), he or she can get a partner to hold the pelvic girdle below the hip joints and push the pelvis up.  This helps to stretch the pelvic and hip muscles up and along with that the sacrum and tail bone also move up a little bit and it will be easy to stretch the
supporting musculature.  One can do the movements a few times with the helper holding the pelvis up a little while the arms are brought down on exhalation and pulling the pelvis up when one raises the arms on inhalation.  Over a period of time the practitioner, while raising the arms, will engage the hip muscles and gently pull the pelvis along with the sacro coccygeal portion of the spine. Sri Krishnamacharya would frequently exhort the student to pull up and hold the hips up in several seated postures like parvatanasana (page 196) and dandasana (page 39).  He would say in Tamil “iduppai thooki pidiyungo” or “Pull up the waist/hips and hold it up”.

I think it is good to use these simple asana and vinyasa procedures to prepare the bottom of the spine.  These simple procedures help to maintain a good flexibility and the tone of the supporting musculature at the bottom end of the spine. My Guru taught many of these simple and doable procedures almost to all levels of yoga abhyasis.  He would
appropriately alter the breathing to langhanakriya so that some of the overweight, older, tense and pregnant (except prone poses in pregnancy) abhyasis could do these procedures.  These are good preparatory exercises that will be helpful in getting a good control over the sacro-coccygeal spine that will help in doing some of the more difficult and charming spine-centric asanas like ushtrasana/kapotasana, triyangmukha uttanasana (backbends), paschimatanasana (forward bend), matsyendtasana (spinal twist), akunchanasana(rounding the spine), parsva bhangi(side bend) and other spine centric asanas and vinysasas.

The term Cakra is well known to Yogis.  Cakra means a wheel in normal usage.  The Samkhyas refer to the potter’s wheel as cakra while describing the post kaivalya time of the yogi. The seven cakras are usually represented as wheels.  Brahmananda, the commentator of the Hatayogapradeepika, refers to cakras as Nadicakra in the context of
nadis. He calls it a collection/group of nadis or nadi samooha.

Several contemporary yogis relate this concept of nadi samooha to ganglia or plexus.  A wheel also is an assembly of different parts, like the hub, spokes, rim and a tyre.  Since Nadis can also refer to blood vessels, the heart itself is referred to as hrdaya cakra.  The
Chaedogya Upanishad of Sama Veda mentions that there are 101 nadis that emanate from the heart.  It is possible then that cakra could mean an organ in this context.  The anahata cakra refers to a cakra that produces a sound without being struck by another agent.  The heart produces the sound by itself.  So anahata cakra could mean the heart cakra or the heart.  In the Suryanamaskara mantra of Yajurveda, there is a mantra which refers to the human body as “ashta cakra, nava dvaara.”  The nava or nine dvaaraas or openings are the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils and the mouth in the face plus the other two openings.  While explaining the meaning of the eight cakras, Sayana, the well known commentator of the vedas, refers to the cakras as different arrangements of cells or different tissues (humors) in the body as tvak (skin), carma (dermis), rakta (blood), mamsa (muscle), medhas (fat), asti (bone), majja (marrow), sukla (seman)/
sonita (uterine secretions).

Thus the term cakra could indicate a group, collection, village of some tissues or an assembly.  It is also suggested by some scholars that the cakra w.r.t the spinal column could refer to different parts of the backbone itself, each section having its own unique
arrangements of bones: the coccyx, sacrum, lumbar, thoracic, cervical and occipital.  And the entire spine with the cranium looks like a kundalini or a cobra with the beautiful wavy body curvatures.