12/14/18

Yesterday was the centenary of the birth of BKS Iyengar, and even though I never had the chance to meet him, his life has greatly influenced mine through the pursuit of yoga. His contributions to the field of yoga are innumerable, and I am very grateful to be part of his lineage, both as a teacher and as a student. His writings hold so much depth and layers about the subject of yoga, that anytime I read them again I learn something new. My favorite concept will always be the one of effortless effort, a guiding principle I strive to attain daily in my practice. As I moved away from the Netherlands and the lovely Dutch Iyengar community, to NYC where it is difficult for me to go to classes, his writings have helped me maintain a sustained self-practice.

IMG-20181214-WA0003

End of practice yesterday morning. Credits to BF.

I wanted to end with a quote from him, but I couldn’t choose so here are my favorites:

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured”

“Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement. What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action”

“Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known even existed.”

“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.”

“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.”

Advertisements

Last night I dreamt of yoga

I don’t know why, but last night I dreamt of yoga. Well, asana. I dreamt I was practicing backbends. I was easily getting in Rajakapotasana (King Pigeon pose) and it felt great.

Rajakapotasana (credits go to Sandy Blaine)

It’s quite interesting because I don’t think I have ever even attempted to do this pose. But in my dream, my feet reached to my head so easily, and my back felt amazing.

Image result for rajakapotasana iyengar

I also did this variation in my dream. (BKS Iyengar, LOY)

I think I remember I could do this quite easily as a kid. Which is quite interesting, because I wasn’t a flexible kid, funnily enough. I couldn’t do the splits, I couldn’t put my foot behind my head, and all of the “crazy” things that sometimes come naturally to children but we lose as we age, I couldn’t do any of those. I was terrible at cartwheels, and not great at gymnastics in general. I was always, however, a dancer. I’ve got good rhythm and moving my body to music feels very natural – and I often surprise people that way (as I am relatively shy, people are often floored to see me dance unrestrictedly).

I think it’s the first time I dreamt about yoga. And to be fair, I’m really wondering why now. Maybe it’s because of the Iyengar Centenary Celebrations in Pune, that I keep on seeing pictures of and wished I could have gone too. Maybe it’s because I miss my Dutch Iyengar community, as I’ve found it really hard to integrate in the one here in NYC, partly because I just don’t manage to make it to class, and partly because it feels a bit more closed up than the Utrecht / Dutch community.

Image may contain: 15 people, people smiling

The Dutch contingency at yoganusanam 2018

It’s also interesting because even though I have not been to classes recently, my practice has picked up again. My handstands are finally somewhat stable when free-standing, I can lift up in Lolasana (with blocks) and do a L-sit* (with a belt, but still it proved to be that my arms aren’t so short that I can’t do a L-sit, and taught me a whole lot about where my butt needs to go if wanna have a chance to do it without). I’ve started considering taking the Junior I exam again, either going back to the Netherlands for it or taking it here – where I know that I will clearly have less chances of passing, as interestingly the way of teaching is different from the Netherlands in subtle, but real ways.

In a way it’s funny to think about the assessment. I understand why the assessments are so rigid, but as the teaching is different here and in NL, it sometimes makes me feel really awkward as “a teacher” that things are done this way (here). For exemple, I’ve learned  how to get in headstand (Sirsasana) away from the wall by drawing my knees to my chest and slowly using my core to lift up my legs, until my knees are up to the ceiling, after which I can stretch the legs up. Here, I should teach getting into headstand by jumping the legs up and back until the feet are on the wall, and from there stretch up one leg after the other. I had never seen anyone get up that way before I moved here.

I don’t know if one technique is better than the other, but I know that if I taught “the Dutch way” at the assessment here, I would likely not pass. And of course it’s not only for one pose that these subtle changes might be an issue. On the other hand, I don’t *really* care whether I pass or not, I kind of just want to take it to see how my practice has evolved. Still, I also don’t want to take the exam knowing I will fail, and lose everybody else’s time.

Another issue in terms of teaching, is that I don’t have all the material that a studio usually has at home. In particular so far I was missing a chair (which I will get for Christmas, yay!), but I also don’t have ropes, and not really enough blankets or blocks if I have more than two students. Which is annoying, especially when on my syllabus are poses like Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (and a certain way to do the pose once again).

Shoulder stands - dangerous? : yoga

Supported Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana. Credits

Anyways, I am a bit uncertain about what to do. Since yoga isn’t my primary occupation, I sometimes feel guilty of not practicing and/or teaching more, but my practice has to stay sustainable while living in a large city, with a demanding job, and spending time with my loved ones. I think I might take a plunge, pay way too much money for a couple of private classes with Lara Warren and ask her opinion about it all.

Meanwhile I will be happy for my friend and early-morning-yoga-partner Tally who took and passed her Intermediate Junior I exam brilliantly!

*I don’t think this is an “official” asana, though the word “Bramcharyasana” keeps on coming back when I search for it. Though I guess it is practiced as jump through / jump back transitions in sun salutations?

If it fits, I sits

In case you don’t know the meme…

My practice has changed, recently. Or rather, my home practice. I’ve been getting up earlier, and if we don’t have a guest home (which is pretty rare at the moment, as it seems every single person we know has decided to come and visit us in NYC – not complaining) I go to our second bedroom and go through a couple of sun salutations, handstands / forearm stands and diverse standing poses before breakfast. It’s a very short practice, usually 15-30 minutes just to start the day right.

My main practice happens in the evening, when it happens at all. I wasn’t expecting my job and commute to be so tiring, and often once I have cooked dinner I only want to sit in the couch and watch something with my boyfriend. Luckily, he often has more energy than me and goes to the gym, which leaves me with some time to dedicate to yoga.

Even so, my practice recently has revolved a lot more around restorative poses and sitting. It’s funny for me to reflect on, as when I started yoga I only wanted to do the “fun” stuff like arm balances, backbends and inversions, especially at home. Now I keep these for the weekends when I have more energy, and try to get to a workshop to compensate my lack of classes during the week. Don’t misunderstand me, I still absolutely love these more “physical” poses. But in my home practice right now, they’re not a priority. I’m too tired and I don’t want to practice poses which will give me energy and prevent me from sleeping.

I remember some years ago, I had a period when I was working really hard to “get” padmasana. I would sit in half-lotus and twist, and catching my foot and twisting would feel amazing for my back, though my front hip would kill me.

parivrtti ardha padmasana

One of my favorite poses from then and now, though the twist doesn’t feel as good anymore.

I spent a lot of time and effort working on padmasana, until I finally “got it”, interestingly I think mainly because of standing poses work and understanding how to turn the front leg in trikonasana (I’ve got lazy thighs who don’t want to turn out).

Then of course I did something stupid, injured my knee, and started from scratch. Now, I can do padmasana, but it feels far from “comfortable” to sit in padmasana (not that it ever did even before I injured my knee), and any pose with hip extension + padmasana is excruciatingly uncomfortable.

This is very much ouch. 

Actually there are very few poses in which I have issues breathing (for exemple I have no issues in backbends like ustrasana or urdhva dhanurasana), but padmasana is one of them along with urdhva hastasana. I sometime even get close to panic while in padmasana, though it stops as soon as I uncross my legs. I’m still unsure why that is.

I find it really interesting that padmasana is such a hard pose for me (though I know I’m not the only one). I was teaching it the other day, and all 3 students in the class got into it on the first try with relatively limited preparation (I was teaching it from having legs up the wall, and I had planned to stop at ardha padmasana, but when it seemed so easy for them I gave the full pose a try).  As I’m one of these very-flexible-possibly-too-flexible-can-overextend-tend-to-work-from-flexibility-not-strength people, having “stiff hips” helps me relate to my students with short hamstrings.

Anyhow all of that to say that even though I am working on being able to sit in padmasana for longer periods of time, as this point it’s still very much uncomfortable, and so I am learning to appreciate sitting in ardha padmasana and sukhasana. I even have the feeling of rediscovering these poses, and how quietening it can be to simply sit down. So I sit in sukhasana, palms on  my knees, close my eyes and breathe. I’m not even trying to do pranayama at this point – I just sit and breathe. And it helps. It’s different from my yoga practice used to be, but it’s still yoga. And it’s still me. I just… changed. And the practice changed with me, to accompany me better in this new chapter of my life. It’s ok that I’m not doing inversions every day at this point. I’ve struggled with accepting that, as inversions are the central pillar of Iyengar yoga practice. But I genuinely think I’d better sit and breathe rather than not do anything because I’m too tired to do headstand and shoulderstand. It’s not very yogic to guilt-trip myself, is it?

 

A yoga practitioner at the dentist

My family has a history of bad teeth. No matter how well I care about them and religiously brush and floss, I always end up with cavities. I’m pretty used about it and make sure I go regularly to the dentist – after seeing both my dad and my brother at the edge of losing their mind due to toothache, I try and make sure that it never happens to me.

But when I moved to the US, navigating this new system of benefits and reimbursement was more complicated than I had expected, and it took me six months to get the right dentist and get an appointment. Overall, almost a year since my last dentist visit – which should be fine for most people, but of course I already had two cavities waiting to be treated. That meant 3 visits total with the initial check-up and cleaning.

I try to use that time at the dentist to practice focused relaxation and deep breathing. I notice how my shoulders get tense and release the tension. I notice my hands are clenching and open my palms. I lift my chest up. I let go of the tension in my legs. I focus my awareness on my breath instead of what’s happening in my mouth. Overall, it makes the experience much easier to go through – the local anesthesia is anyways strong enough that I don’t feel any pain, but it’s never a pleasant experience. I especially dislike the sound of the instrument drilling in the tooth, I think.

Anyhow at the first visit I closed my eyes as the dentist was working on my cleaning, and he immediately stopped and asked if something was wrong and / or if I was in pain. That’s when I realized that most people probably don’t try to close their eyes at the dentist :’) I just said no and since then I’ve tried not to close my eyes at the dentist even if it would help me focus on my breath. I know I don’t like when my students close their eyes in certain poses, and yesterday I heard Lara Warren say to someone with their eyes closed to open them as “it’s nice, you could be thinking about anything there but you’re not really in the present”.

Pension Problems For Dentists - Defacto Dentists Blog

Not my dentist. But I don’t really understand how I’m supposed to do small talk while they are working on my teeth. That’s a skill yoga did not help me with…

It reminded me of the time I went to the osteopath that my yoga teacher recommended as I had once again displaced my pelvis (yes, it’s a reoccurring event for me since the fist time it happened when I fell down stairs). She asked me about why I was coming to see her and I told her that I displaced my pelvis doing yoga. First astonished face – “usually people don’t actually know what is up with them, just that they have pain”, she says. I heard in her voice that she was astonished again when she checked me standing and it was displaced on the side I told her (right) as she mentioned that people often complain about pain on the opposite side it is usually displaced (!). Finally, when she asked me to lie on my side on the examining table, she started slightly laughing and said “I can always see when people are dancers or yogis, you guys are always so elegant in positioning yourselves on the table! Normal people just roll around!”.

I know I can definitely say quite a bit by the way people hold themselves and their  general posture – and I’ve recently been called out in an Iyengar-inspired but not certified yoga class I was at as being “an Iyengar person” – though it might just have been because of the shorts :’D

What are non-obvious practice places where you do practice yoga? Has anyone ever told you it was obvious from your behavior that you were a yoga practitioner? If you haven’t tried practicing at the dentist yet, I highly recommend it 😉

How to reinvent the wheel, huh, the shoulder jacket

If you’ve been doing Iyengar yoga for some time, at some point or another you will have encountered the infamous shoulder jacket. Whether you’ve had shoulder / neck issues in the past, or you simply went to a workshop where the teacher was working on that region, the shoulder jacket is an easy way to help your posture by relaxing your neck muscles and bringing the shoulder blades close by each other.

A shoulder jacket can easily be made by using a long belt. You can find the description (and many more options for using belts and ropes to help your shoulders) in Lois Steinberg’s Iyengar Yoga Asana Alternatives: the Neck and Shoulders. A short description so that you can try it at home even if you don’t have the book:

  • take one handle of the belt in each hand.
  • bring the belt to your back, with the center of the belt on your spine, and one side of the belt going through between your arms and the sides of your chest. Repeat the other side.
  • the belt should be just under the armpits, with the belt’s extremities in front of your body.
  •  now bring (well, I “throw over” but that’s not very yogic) the belt’s extremities over your shoulders so that they are in your back.
  • cross the handles so that your right hand holds the originally left handle, and the left hand holds the originally right handle
  • make sure that the belt is not cutting through your skin, especially under the armpit, and that the part over your shoulders is on the bulky part of the trapezius muscle, not the bone.
  • pull the belt handles down. You should feel the shoulder blades going towards each other and the chest lifting. The downward pressure on the the trapezius should help relax them.

Strangely, I could find very few pictures of the shoulder jacket online. Intellectual property rights? Or is this gem an unknown secret shared by the Iyengar community? If so, I’m sorry, I didn’t get the memo. Please don’t remove my certification!!!! Joke aside, you can bring the crossed belts in between the belt and the shirt, or over – if you’re not helped by someone like in this picture it can be a tad tricky. Also, I would bring the belts on the top of the shoulders closer to her neck.  

While I was looking for the source of that picture, I found out it actually comes from this video where a shoulder jacket is used in down dog. It doesn’t need to be used with a partner, you can simply stand in tadasana with the shoulder jacket and pull the ropes down yourself.

Also, I don’t know if it’s me, but I’ve seen this “buckling” of the belt forward on multiple pictures, and while I understand why people do that, I feel it defeats a bit the purpose imo. I think it confuses the direction of the action. But maybe that’s just me – at this point sometimes I feel things and have been working on feeling the skin direction and such subtle aspects, but I’m a bit uncertain of whether what I’m feeling is correct or not.

Anyhow if you want to do standing poses (or other) with a shoulder jacket on, by all means do so, but I would advise to use a slightly shorter belt that can just hang, or a different version of the shoulder jacket. In that version, you make a large loop in the belt, step in the loop, position the belt on the back / under the armpits as in the previously described version, and bring the part of the belt in front of you over your shoulders. You now have a loop hanging in your back. Bring it in between the belt that it perpendicular to your spine and your shirt, adjust, and pull down. This should keep the belt in place as well as the imprint, without having a tripping hazard.

So. Did you try it at home? Is this your favorite thing ever? Do you talk about it to everyone you meet and their neighbor? Well, I’ve just saved you $30. Yep, I couldn’t believe it when I saw an advertisement for this product online today. A shoulder jacket is a better version (though admittedly probably less comfy) of this product, and a belt, if you’re not hang up on getting an Iyengar belt, can be as low as $5 (on Amazon, not sponsored) – and you can use it in so many other ways! True, you probably won’t go hiking with your yoga belt (even though…) but if you use the shoulder jacket everyday, even for 15 minutes, I guarantee you will see improvement in your posture.

Recycling & composting woes

If you’ve ever cared a little bit about the planet, you’re likely recycling part of what you buy. And if you’re like me a couple of years ago, you’ve probably wondered why people would go zero-waste when you can easily recycle! Easily? Not really. Notwithstanding only 9% of all plastic is actually recycled (and the reason why Asia is responsible for most of it ending up in the ocean is because we send it there in the first place), I’m sure you’ve stood, like me, in front of the recycling bins with an item in your hand, which you’re pretty unsure whether it can be recycled or not, and if so, in which bin it should go.

Furthermore, plastic isn’t actually recycled but downcycled, unlike glass and metals which can truly be recycled. What about paper / cardboard? While they are also downcycled since at each recycling round the fibers giving it its structure shorten, the final product can at least be composted, unlike plastic which decomposes very, very, VERY slowly, except in some conditions, like in oceans, where it leaches microplastics (like BPA) which are detrimental to the health of marine life and ultimately ours.

There are many reasons why Recycle is at the bottom of the list, not the top

You get it, it’s better to get metal or glass containers, or even better not to purchase something. But let’s be realistic here, while I would hope for everyone to adopt a zero-waste, low-impact lifestyle, it’s not gonna happen any time soon. Meanwhile, people like my parents, who do not really want to change their lifestyle, will recycle if presented with the opportunity (but not compost, arghh).

So, what can you do with minimum effort?

  • avoid single-use plastics. There are more than you think. We’ve heard about the straws, but also single-serving wrappers, coffee cups, etc.
  • buy in bulk. And I don’t really mean at the bulk shop, though you can do that too if it’s convenient for you. In my current situation, it’s really not, so I buy large quantities. For exemple, I buy rice in 10kg bags, it lasts for a while. I buy nuts by 3kg bags (they do go rancid after a while). And so forth and so on. While technically not “zero-waste” in the sense that there is packaging involved, there would also be packaging involved at the bulk store but you just don’t see it nor bring it home.
  • recycle and compost using your city’s recycling / composting bins (or at home, if you have the space – it’s not that hard). Even in college you can compost! Pro-tip: if you don’t want it to smell while waiting for the collection time, you can freeze your food scraps: no odor guaranteed!

While it seems obvious why you should recycle, I have to admit it wasn’t obvious why I should compost. I genuinely thought organic matter would simply “compost” in the landfill. In fact, in landfill conditions, organic matter does not compost. If you don’t want to go through the article, basically, the way that organic matter decomposes in the landfill produces a huge amount of methane, one of the worst global warming gasses.

Ok, so now about the practical details of recycling and composting. Depending on where you live, there are likely different rules for recycling, so please check with your own city what the rules are. For exemple, in France we had some advertisements about not wasting water by washing the recycling – I tried to find it back but didn’t manage. Here (NYC) on the contrary, it is recommended to rince recyclables very well before putting them in the recycling bins. RECYCLING IS CONFUSING.

Let’s play a game. I give you an item, you tell me where it should go. Ready?

  • Paper towels

.

.

.

Compost! Yep, this is the end of life of paper products. Putting them in the recycling will lower the quality of the recycled end-product, even if they are not soiled (which if they aren’t, why are you throwing them out anyways???).

 

  • Envelopes / cardboard boxes with plastic window

.

.

.

Here, paper recycling. And no need to remove the window.

 

  • Supermarket receipt

.

.

.

Landfill. Receipts are BPA-lined and should not be recycled as they will contaminate the rest of the paper stream 😦

 

  • Ice-cream containers like Haagen-Dasz

.

.

.

As anything which is mixed materials, this cannot be recycled and should go to the landfill. 😦 😦 😦 (I love those).

 

  • Plastic bags

.

.

.

Here, they can be recycled but not mixed in the comingled (curbside) recycling. Only hard plastics are recycled in the curbside recycling in NYC. National grocery retailers (such as Kroger, Safeway, Target and Walmart) and many smaller retailers offer bag recycling collections in their stores. I collect them and then bring them to Rite Aid when I have accumulated a few.

 

  • Coffee cups

Coffee - To Go Cup

.

.

.

Landfill! Yes, this is once again a case of mixed materials (the paper is lined with plastic on the inside of the cup) and so they cannot be recycled.

 

Alright, I still want to link this how to recycle in NYC guide in case you have more questions. It should be possible to find a similar guide relative to where you live at your respective sanitation department. If you’re curious about how bad it is to put the wrong item in a recycling bin, well here are your answers. Now, have you ever pondered where an item should go? What was it and did you find out the answer? Leave a comment and let me (and others) know! Only now, after six months of living in NYC, do I feel at ease with the recycling system. Composting might also be an issue very soon, as we used to bring it to a weekly collection point at a nearby subway station, which is now closed for renovation, so they moved the collection point too far for us to bring. We are currently bringing it to Brooklyn Grange, but I’m not sure what we’ll do when they close for the winter.