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?

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.

Srivatsa Ramaswami: The Three Gunas

I received the following in an email from my teacher, Srivatsa Ramaswami.

I began studying with Ramaswami in 2004 at the Chicago Yoga Center (where he comes very year to teach) and I was hooked the first night. He is considered a chant master in India and the first night’s workshop was the “Yoga of Sound”, all about mantras. I drove home crying because his chanting and the mantras touched my heart. Ramaswami is the teacher who inspired me to go to the heart of yoga, India.

Ramaswami is the longest standing student of T. Krishnamacharya outside of Krishnamacharya’s immediate family. When I started studying with him, Ramaswami was not as well-known as Krishnamacharya’s other students, BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois, and Desikachar, Krishnamacharya’s son. When I told people that I studied with Ramaswami they asked “who?”, but Ramaswami studied with Krishnamacharya longer than any of the Big Three. He was an original trustee of the Krishnmacharya Yoga Mandiram in Chennai, India where I have studied three times. It is certainly not the habit of American yoga students as it is in India to touch their teacher’s feet to show respect, but I would not hesitate, that is how much respect I have for Ramaswami-ji.

When I bought Ramaswami’s book The Complete Book of Vinyasa Yoga and got toward the end of the Acknowledgement, I began to cry because I saw my name. He mentioned me (and others) as “one of the teachers who has incorporated essentials of vinyasa krama into their teaching and practice even from Day 1.” I was stunned because I did not think he even knew my name. Now every year when he sees me he smiles and asks, “when are you going back to Madras?”, Madras being the old name for Chennai.

I give you the writing of a true yoga master and a true yogi.


The Three Gunas (Triguna) and the Four Human Goals (Purusharthas)

According to Yoga and other sibling philosophies, the entire universe is made of the three Gunas, Satwa, Rajas and Tamas, and these permeate everything (including all of us) everywhere in dominating everything in varying degrees. Due to the preponderance of one of these Gunas, in every individual, different human beings follow different goals. Even as everyone’s desire is to get happiness and get rid of unhappiness, each one, depending upon his or her guna temperament, pursues different means and goals (arthas) for one’s satisfaction or happiness. The three gunas are satwa, rajas and tamas. The four purushartas or human goals are dharma (order), artha (material possession), kama (sensual desires), and moksha (spiritual freedom.) A satwic person is inclined towards dharma, while the rajasic, tamasic and the one who is able to go beyond the influence of all the gunas (gunaateeta) are attracted respectively towards artha, kama and moksha. These four are called purusharthas or chatur-vidha-purushartha (four different human endeavors/goals.)

Persons whose personality is predominantly satwic follow ‘dharma’ as a goal of their lives for happiness. Dharma is the Law of Piety, Compassion, and orderly life. They follow the benevolent dictates of the scriptures, the laws of the land, leading a life consistent with the gods of nature. It is anathema for them to cross the Laws of Dharma. Such Dharmis are said to lead a very peaceful life here and hereafter, as they, who are said to be in a small minority, do and accumulate good karmas.

The Rajasic people are like the proverbial “A” type personalities. Highly energetic and mostly restless, they pursue very down to earth policies and follow the goal of artha or material possessions. More wealth and more power give them happiness and the means are less important than the goals. Only a few who follow this life-long pursuit of possessions and power ever succeed and sustain, leading to collective unhappiness of this lot. The happiness of the majority of them rises with the tide of increasing possessions and ebbs with the loss of wealth and power.

We have then the third group of people who are dominated by tamas. It is said Tamas, because it veils the intellect, makes such people short sighted. Their happiness lies in sensual gratification. Tasty food, frequent tactile stimulus, attractive visual objects and captivating sounds dominate their life. When the senses over a period of time lose their acuity, they have less room to be happy and fall into a state of depression as they get older.

Then there are the spiritual Yogis who relentlessly follow the path of spiritual wisdom and intuitively understand the nature of the ever present, nonchanging nature of their own Self and reach a state of Kaivalya or Moksha or spiritual Freedom. In that state, according to Yogis, the three Gunas reach a state of equilibrium. This, the yogis call a state of Nirodha of the mind, or a state the Lord in the Gita calls Gunateeta or beyond the dominance of the Gunas. This state leads to a permanent and irrevocable state of peace of mind and the yogis aver that it is superior to the other variable and unstable states of happiness; superior to that attained by sensual gratification of the tamasic personality or the happiness arising out of possessions of the Rajasic, or even the dharmic life of a Satwic person. Though the satwic state of happiness is superior to the other two, even that is said to be impermanent. Hence the Lord urges everyone, through His disciple Arjuna in the Gita, to go from Tamas to Rajas and then to Satwa and ultimately transcend all the Gunas. It is easier said then done.

But how is it done? Only Yoga comes with specific measures to change the individual personalities. One can transform a Tamasic mind to a Rajasic bent by practice of Pranayama, in addition to the observance of Yamaniyamas. The observance of a well designed practice of asanas will reduce the addictive influence of Rajas and hence a yogi who practices asana and pranayama will become more and more Satwic, thanks the reduction of Tamas and Rajas. And by spiritual meditation one will be able to transcend all the three Gunas.

So as Lord Krishna says, “Tatha yogi bhava Arjuna”, (Therefore become a Yogi). One should practice Yoga. You will agree?

Best New Year wishes,

Srivatsa Ramaswami

addthis_pub = ‘yogagal60510’;

if you can’t stand the heat…

…get out of that yoga studio — or at least ask the teacher to turn it down.

I’ve been reading bindifry’s itty bitty brain basket blog for a while now. bindi is an astanga teacher in chicago. proving once again that it’s a small world, I already “know” bindi from the yoga studio where I trained although we have never met. such is life in the blogosphere!

bindi is in india right now so I emailed her and told her how I loved her post about cranking up the heat during yoga because I totally agree with her. bindi gave me permission to quote her blog:

“for all of you who like to turn up the heat in the yoga room to 80, hear me out. not everyone can tolerate that kind of heat. us pitta/vata people have a tendency to overheat. and that is not good for us. the yoga room seems to be a constant battle of heat/cold depending on the dosha make up of the individual. sharath talked about this last year when i studied with him in australia. he said there should always be windows open, ventilation at all times. and it is dangerous to have sweat dripping off your body because that means the body is unable to cool itself anymore. too many salutations is not good when you are this heated, and you should do less. and you should do more when you are very cold. when i practice yoga, i do not even turn the heat on. because it’s actually dangerous for me to over heat. there aren’t any totally closed rooms in india, so this western idea of a sauna room with steam on the windows & puddles of sweat is just that-a “western” ideal of yoga. we want the heat to “do” the yoga for us, instead of us making that heat ourselves by working hard. the room should not be heated above 69 degrees. the last thing you want to do is ingest other people’s toxins. someone like me has a real reason for needing to practice very early in the morning. especially in south india. and this is the reason. i lack kapha in my bodily make up. i like to make my own heat. too much makes me overheat. sick, even. and i turn very red & am unable to cool down for a long time. i lose my appetite, and get heat stroke.

i am reading an interesting astanga book right now called, “ashtanga yoga practice & philosophy,” by an australian named gregor maehle. he talks about this phenomenon. …here’s some paraphrased words from the book regarding heat:

‘care needs to be taken not to overheat. overheating is not good. sweating too much drains the life force from the body. 68 degrees is ideal for practice. heating the yoga room above 77 degrees produces flexibility, but decreases strength, stamina & concentration.’ he goes on to discuss how overly flexible people are lacking strength, a result of biochemical imbalance. and too much strength without flexibility restricts the range of joint movement.’ ‘a cold room increases awareness and attention to detail & pays off in terms of benefits. there is more learning if the temperature is low & the body becomes sturdier due to the awakening of physical intelligence.’

so please consider others in the room when you enter the yoga shala & take it upon yourself to turn the heat up to 80 degrees. if you are that cold, you need to do more salutations, move faster, and do not stop moving. sensitivity to others is supreme. and think about that when you close a window, too. because some of us are losing our life force.”

(italics emphasis added)

the yogis reading this know the yoga styles where it is customary to turn up the heat. I have done both styles and frankly I think it’s a gimmick. I think it’s a gimmick to cater to the western mindset of “it ain’t a workout unless I sweat.” I know that people who do Bikram yoga claim that they are more flexible after a class. well, yes, because it’s the heat that’s doing it, not the yoga. it’s a false sense of flexibility.

flexibility has everything to do with the connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, and fascia of the body), not the muscles. and the connective tissue must be therapeutically stressed (i.e., held) for a minimum of three to five minutes in poses like cobbler’s pose or pigeon or low lunges or hero, to name a few. that’s yin yoga. connective tissue must be worked every day, consistently, in order to achieve true flexibility. anything less, and connective tissue will literally shrinkwrap your joints. you don’t need heat to achieve the flexibility that working your connective tissue in this manner will give you.

In a vinyasa class we can create heat by holding the pose longer and watching the breath or by engaging in kumbhaka after the inhalation. But many yoga students can’t be still for that long. You don’t have to do “power yoga” or move fast to create heat. I sweat a lot anyway and I’m dripping with sweat if I practice in an unairconditioned studio during a hot midwestern summer. The sweat rolls down my face so I don’t need the heat cranked up.

bindi is right on when she talks about heat not being good for certain doshas. teaching pranayama indiscriminately in a group class without knowing the students’ doshas is also not wise. for example, kapalabhati breathing aggravates vata, and if the student is vata/pitta, and does kapalabhati breathing in a room that is heated to over 80 degrees…you get the idea.

is yoga about soothing and harmonizing the mind/body complex or is it about further aggravating an already stressed and aggravated body?

during my first training in India the class was predominately western yoga teachers. the asana class was the first class of the day, from 7 to 8 am, before the heat of the day, in an open-air room. all the classes were taught by Desikachar’s senior teachers.

one day a teacher was speaking about certain asanas and one of the American teachers asked, “but will it create heat?” The Indian teacher looked confused. “heat?” “yes, heat. like in the core.” the teacher still looked confused. “why do you want to create ‘heat’?,” she asked. now the American yoga teacher looked confused. she did not know how to answer that and remained silent.

the Indian teacher laughed. “South India is already hot. we do not want to create more heat! we do not understand this idea of ‘creating heat’ in your yoga classes.”


thanks, bindi!

no attachment, no aversion

What would happen to pain if we did not label it as such? What would happen if we turned to face our obstacles instead of pushing them away?

I teach vinyasa flow and yin yoga. Yin yoga is a style that is still unfamiliar to many yoga students. It doesn’t make you sweat and you don’t feel like you’ve gotten a “workout” — “you mean you’re not moving? you’re just on the floor? no way can I do pigeon for 10 minutes, are you kidding?!?”

I believe that if you have strictly a “yang” practice like astanga or vinyasa, you are only giving yourself half the gift of yoga.

Because of my training with Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers and my own personal yoga and meditation practices, I feel that a yin/yang yoga practice offers a complete practice not only on the physical level, but more importantly on the psychic level. Working on these deeper levels is what leads to our personal transformation, and the changes we make in our soft tissue have a profound influence on the emotional, mental, and energetic levels. My own yoga practice deepened when I moved away from an alignment-based, precision-obsessed practice.

A quiet yin practice reveals our subtle body. We move from the gross muscular level into our bones, into the connective tissue deep within us. Many yoga students don’t practice in a way that invites stillness because many times the contemplative aspects of yoga are ignored in western yoga classes. How many of you sit in stillness for 10-15 minutes DURING a vinyasa class, i.e., at the end of class, not AFTER the class, only as an option? My study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India showed me how different yoga is there compared to the fitness classes labeled as yoga here.

In my training with Sarah earlier this year she said that “yoga is a process of fully inhabiting ourselves — body, heart, and mind.” Sarah believes that as a society we are so fixated on our bodies looking and performing a certain way that we neglect the spirit body. She said that Ken Wilber calls this “bodyism”, and I see it all the time in vinyasa classes.

There is nothing wrong in trying to perfect an arm balance or headstand, nothing at all. But if the only thing behind it is Ego, then it is only a performance. Non-attachment, non-Ego, is accepting yourself just the way you are in that present moment when your legs smash the wall and you crash down from a very shaky headstand — and smiling about it instead of swearing. I ask my students, “what is going to ultimately transform you? holding an arm balance for five minutes or sitting in stillness for five minutes?”

The stillness of yin yoga allows us to observe the rising and passing away of physical and emotional sensations. All of our life experiences reside in our body, and the emotional afflictions we all carry affects the body and hardens us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Yin yoga is not just about cultivating physical flexibility, but our inner flexibility as well. Sarah believes that we can never truly soften if we do not investigate these sensations and turn toward our pain and discomfort, instead of running from them. This process is similar to vipassana meditation — watching, arising, abiding, passing away.

Sarah’s teacher training included a workshop called “Working with Emotional Obstacles Along the Path.” She suggests that we explore our personal responses to our sensations, and instead of pushing them away, confront them, because if we do not, our obstacles continue to live in our bodies. Sarah recommends a five step process:

* Recognition — Identify what is disturbing you the most. Emotional pain, illness, addiction, self-hate?

* Acceptance — Acknowledge the issue and explore how and where it lives inside you. Does it have a shape, color, size, temperature, texture?

* Impartiality — Let go of defining the issue as right or wrong. Let go of assumptions and just observe.

* Personification — Imagine this issue as a living being in front of you. Notice its gender, color, size, etc. Ask It what It needs of You, and if this need is met, how does that make You feel?

* Compassion — Give yourself permission to have this need as you begin to open to the expansiveness and clarity of your newfound Awareness.

Yoga, done with mindfulness, allows us to come home to ourselves.

(Yoga Sutra-s 1.3)
“Then, the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent.”

“In the state of Yoga, the different preconceptions and products of the imagination that can prevent or distort understanding are controlled, reduced, or eliminated. The tendency to be closed to fresh comprehension or the inability to comprehend are overcome.” (Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, TKV Desikachar)