Yoga citta vritti nirodha

Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.

I’ve been thinking about what yoga truly is recently, and I guess especially the state of samadhi (which I will translate here as meditative consciousness or one-pointedness of mind).

Now, when we refer to yoga or what most people think of as yoga nowadays is actually only one of the eight petals of yoga, asana, aka the postures. The eight-fold path or ashtanga yoga (not to be confused with the hatha yoga style developed by Pattabhi Jois) is often represented as a tree like below:

Credits to shaktianandayoga

But I have seen other representations such as this one:

Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga Study Chart | Daily Cup of Yoga

I am personally not a fan of this second representation because it seems like it is an order in which you do things, so if you have achieved yamas and niyamas you can start asana*, once you achieve that, you start pranayama, and so on until dharana, at which point if you practice enough dhyana will happen, and if you get to dhyana often enough, then samadhi will be bestowed upon you.

Guruji BKS Iyengar has “debunked” this linear progression many times. The limbs are intertwined and you can practice every single aspect during your asana practice, for exemple during asana practice your breath should be soft and controlled like in pranayama, your awareness should be spread all throughout your body, you should not harm yourself, etc etc. I remember he also wrote about Gandhi being a prime exemple of what can be achieved with a strong ahimsa practice**, though I do not think Gandhi ever called himself a yogi. The tree imagery represent much better how the different limbs are interconnected, and it’s not like once you have roots, a tree stops growing roots to grow its trunk; on the other hand a tree keeps on growing in all directions, roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, all at the same time (at least if it’s the right season ;).

Anyhow back to the topic of what I actually wanted to write about. Samadhi. I sometimes have glimpses of what I believe Samadhi must be like. This only happens to me during headstand practice, and not always, sadly. Some days I am just struggling to stay back up for 5 minutes. But some days, I manage to settle in the pose and stay there in a state of what I can only describe of effortless effort. I am lucky if this happens for a full minute. However this made me wonder about senior teachers. Though I have never met Guruji, based on what I read, I do believe that especially in his later years, he was in a constant state of samadhi, whether he was practicing asana or not. So I wonder about the senior teachers: are they in a constant state of samadhi? Do they only attain it during practice? Is what I think of as being samadhi actually samadhi? It does certainly feel like yoga in terms of cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. But then again, if I practice in a class setting I am likely to get corrected on my headstand, so is it possible to attain samadhi in a somewhat imperfect headstand? If by any chance a senior teacher (or anyone else, really, but if a senior teacher comes by, please please please comment) reads this, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Meanwhile, I finally invested on the Astadala Yogamala anthology, so I’m sure many more questions about yoga will pop up as I go through the material.


* Though I sometimes wish that yoga practitioners would “practice” yama and niyama before starting an asana practice… or at least have an idea of what it entails. So many people thinking yoga is just stretching :\ /rantover

**I believe this was in Light on life, but might be in Tree of Yoga.



Bonus tip: I finally made it to class, and I learned this amazing tip for backbends on the chair, the one where you curve over the lean of the chair towards the wall, with your feet on the legs of the chair. While you are reaching your hands down on the wall, stop for a moment where you are, and try to sit back on the chair (without moving your hands from where they are on the wall).  Then go back to walking your hands down on the wall, rinse and repeat, so that you’re basically oscillating in your backbend from more weight on your feet to more weight on your hands. Boy if that’s not a deep back opener, I don’t know what is!

Weekly Update: What's Been Going On At The Blue Osa Eco Resort

I’m talking about that one, whose name I’m not sure about. I’d say Chair Urdhva Dhanurasana, but usually that refers to coming up to Urdhva Dhanurasana from having your back on the seat of the chair like for the Introductory syllabus, so if anyone knows the “proper” name please let me know below. Image courtesy of blue osa




A balancing act

With a title like that, you probably thought this article was going to be on balancing poses. Sorry to disappoint, but this is actually going to be on balancing life. Hopefully you’re still interested!

How life feels right now, except I wish I could get into Mayurasana 😉

So, it’s been a few months since I moved to NYC, and I am now relatively settled into a routine. Work is going well, teaching at the shelter and living with the boyfriend too, and I am enjoying what the city has to offer in terms of art and events.

Yet I find it difficult to practice as much as I would like. Or rather, the way that I would like? Kind of both. It’s not like I stopped practicing, I still do – but less than before, and always self-practice. While I did probably not do enough of it while living in Utrecht, I feel like doing solely self-practice is making me stagnate a bit. While I rarely have the issue of “what should I do now?” which I often think of as the “entry barrier” to self-practice, I feel like I’m not exploring as far as I did in a class / teacher training setting. I guess I miss the teacher’s push to go deeper. I wish I were already at a stage where self-practice is sufficient to “unlock” new aspects of poses, but it simply doesn’t seem to be the case. So self-practice sort of “maintains” my level of yoga, but I’m not managing to go further. And I’m not talking physically, as I can feel that my handstands for exemple have progressed – I can more easily balance now than six months ago, but more at an understanding-of-the-pose level.

This is an issue as I fully intend to keep on deepening my yoga practice as well as my teaching. I initially planned to take my intermediate Junior I exam next year, but this feels premature at this point. For one, the style of teaching in the US is actually quite different from the Netherlands, which I find quite weird considering of all the rules we have to follow. Not that it is better or worse, simply a different way to present things, use props, or talk about certain movements. This might also be due to the fact that English is first language here versus in the Netherlands and even for myself (though teaching in French is always a bit weird for me as I very rarely do it!).

Turning the Mind Upside-Down | Through the Peacock's Eyes

Pincha Mayurasana, one of the balancing poses on the Junior I syllabus

Anyhow, I already mentioned that it is difficult for me to get to the Institute here in New York, because of very unpractical class times for working people added to a very impractical commute from work. It is quite frustrating to know that great teaching is happening so close, yet I cannot benefit from it.

Added to this is the difficulty to take holidays or days off as a scientist. Officially, I am not entitled to any days off this year. Unofficially, my supervisor is nice enough to have let me take a day here and there, and even a week in October. But clearly, I cannot take a day off every other week to go to a yoga workshop, or half a week to go to the IYNAUS convention. Let’s not even think about taking a month off to go to Pune… when I already have issues planning a trip to Europe to see my family.

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute - India - Pune

So  finding a life-work balance is proving difficult. I’m not ready to become a full-time yoga teacher yet, if ever. As much as I like teaching, I also genuinely enjoy my research and I hope it will result in a drug which will save lives within a few years. And even if I did quit my job (which, reasonably, I anyways cannot do for visa reasons, but assuming I could get a different visa), I would like to spend more time doing animal rights activism and possibly finding a job in science policy. I could see how this would fit more easily with a yoga schedule though. Then again, in a few years I will likely want to raise a child, which will also take time. So is it possible to have it all? Am I too involved with my “day job”? If you truly want to teach yoga and walk forward on the yogic path, is there no other way but to become a full-time yoga teacher?

I think of Mr. Iyengar and the path he took away from the “traditional” yogis, as a house owner (grihasthin) and not a renunciate (sannyasin). At the time, being a yoga teacher was most certainly weird, and a very risky career choice… Yet it enabled him to spend hours and hours mastering the craft, and he not only mastered it, but spread it all around the world so far that nowadays everyone knows about yoga. He knew it was his calling, and he answered to it, leading him to create an amazing community and recording an incredible depth of knowledge. While I feel truly grateful for my situation as well as everything I have achieved so far, I can’t help but wonder: what do you do when you have more than one calling? Is it a case of “jack of all trades, master of none”? Or is it simply one of our time’s illness, and my inability to truly get to the essence of yoga, “stilling of the waves of the mind” (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali I-2)?

Internet Marketing Jack of All Trades and Master of ...

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you manage your practice / teaching and your regular job + family life? Were there times when it was more difficult? What tips and tricks helped you to find your balance? What made you want to teach full-time?


Teaching yoga at a homeless shelter

I find this a hard article to write, as there is so much to write about!

It’s been a bit more than a month since I started teaching a weekly class in a homeless shelter in the south of Manhattan. Well, homeless shelter is a bit of a misnaming in this case, since it is a “transition home”, which is mid-term housing for people who used to live on the street. So, technically, they are not homeless anymore.

The shelter is managed by the BRC, the largest association helping the homeless in NYC. There are 32 “clients”, as they are called, living there for a period from 6 to 24 months, until they can hopefully transition to stable housing. This specific location specializes in clients who have a history of mental illness and/or substance abuse.

It’s an interesting experience for sure, very different from teaching at an Iyengar studio.

  • I have very little space and / or props. Four mats, and a wall once I’ve pushed the chairs in that room to the side. I bring my own blocks and belt to help, and of course use the wall and sometimes the very impractical sitting chairs.


  • There is no planning possible (thankfully I was never truly a class-planning person anyways…). What I mean by this is that the class is supposed to be from 7PM to 8:30PM. But I never know when people are going to show up. Around 7PM, the security guy usually rings the bell to let residents know that the class is starting. Sometimes one of the students will actually be there at 7, sometimes I just wait until someone shows up. So far I have always had someone show up, but it can be 10, 15, 20 minutes after the class was supposed to start (I’ve put a limit on myself to leave if noone has showed up by 7:30PM). So I start when my first student shows up, and other students might join in (or not) at any point. Thankfully I already had a good training in this when I was teaching at my friend Daniel’s place, since he would regularly interrupt the class to go take care of his dinner.


  • The students themselves are very different from what people think as “yogis”. Their fitness level is very low, and the demographic is mainly black males aged 30-70. I actually think it is great, as it shows that yoga is truly for everyone. I’m glad they are interested in trying it, and that they keep on coming back and work hard to improve their lives.


  • A funny one to finish. You know how we all fart? It’s actually a question I’ve had a lot from people. What do you do when people fart, or when you, a teacher, farts during a demonstration for exemple? Well I’ve found that in regular classes, people just ignore it and go ahead with whatever was going on beforehand. They might be secretly judging the farter, but we’ll never know. At the shelter however, a fart is followed by a loud “SORRY!” and sometimes a laugh from the guilty and shameless farter, which I find both hilarious and refreshing.


Teaching in this setting has taught me a lot about myself as a teacher. I’ve had to let go of my Iyengar perfectionism. If I can get them to stretch a bit and get somewhat of the shape of the pose, that’s good. If I can relieve a bit of their back pain (main complaint), that’s awesome! And since they come back, I assume they find some value in my teaching. It has also stimulated a lot of my creativity, as even “easy” poses are sometimes out of reach. What do you do when child’s pose is a hard pose, and you don’t have props to help? Finally, I try to be more conscious of my adjusting students. Even though in my Introductory assessment I was told I don’t touch people enough, I am especially wary of touching people who have been through trauma, which this specific group of student most certainly has. So I try to ask every time if I can touch the student before adjusting them – but old habits die hard and I’m very guilty of regularly doing before asking. - – Books on Grief

For people interested in trauma and how yoga can help survivors, I highly recommend this book which I recently devoured. 


Finally, I’d like to advertise a Gofundme I created to collect money and purchase some more props for my students at the shelter. The money will go towards getting bolsters, blocks and blankets to make yoga more accessible to the students who have knee pain, difficulties to relax and a hard time stretching. I am sure they will be very grateful for any contribution you can make.



10 ways practicing yoga changed my life

Disclaimer: the idea for this post came while I was in the shower, and I just felt like I HAD TO WRITE IT RIGHT NOW. So there you go, in no particular order:

  1. I reconnected with my body and accepted it for what it is. I fell in love at first practice because of how it made me feel. At the time I was dissatisfied with my body and its refusal to conform to what I thought I ought to look like. Yoga made me accept my body as it was, and made me proud of the things it could do. Funnily, my body did change a lot with practice, losing weight (which I attribute to #3) and  weight training, to a point that I think it is what I wished it was at the time, but I’m not sure whether that it truly the case or whether I’ve just truly learned to love myself.
  2. I stopped wearing make-up everyday. Linked to #1, and also moving to the Netherlands where the pressure to look put together is much less important than in France, especially the South of France. Still a + in my book. I do like to wear make-up from time to time but don’t feel like I have to.
  3. I became vegan. Maybe the biggest # in terms of impact. While I like to say that I initially went vegan for environmental reasons but am now an ethical vegan, I don’t think that’s entirely true. Because I owe my dabbling into veganism to a reflection on yamas and niyamas we has to do during teacher training, and it was definitely an ethical issue.
  4. My back stopped hurting. A combination of addressing my anterior pelvic tilt in teacher training and general strengthening of my core. I used to have really bad backaches which made me consider a breast reduction in university. I now rarely suffer from them, and if I do I know that twisting + supta virasana with a block between the shoulders will relieve the issue.
  5. I met people I never would have otherwise. The whole amazing Iyengar yoga community of the Netherlands, and more recently, my students at the homeless shelter (more on this soon!)
  6. I now breathe through my nose at all times, and am aware of my breath most of the time. My breathing is also slower than most people I know. This is both an advantage and an inconvenient, as it sometimes stresses me out to hear my boyfriends’ semi-erratic breathing.
  7. I am much more self-confident. This came mainly with teaching. It taught me to speak up and be assertive.
  8. I always have yoga pants or shorts in my suitcase at a minimum. Often accompanied by a strapped mat and blocks if possible.
  9. Strangers come to talk to me in the park. Before yoga, nobody had ever come talk to me while I was hanging out in a park. If I practice, there is a 50% chance that someone will come talk to me about it. Also: people trying to imitate what I’m doing. Kids and grown-ups alike, and it’s happened that I feel like I have to intervene and teach them how not to break their neck while they attempt headstand.
  10. I spend a lot of time upside-down and love ropes 🙂


Senior teacher Bobby Clennell in rope sirsasana

Don’t be like toothpaste, be like broccoli!

Last weekend, I went to the New York Institute to follow a workshop with Gabriella Giubilaro. Gabriella is a senior teacher from Florence, and she has been spreading the Iyengar yoga knowledge for numerous years, as you can see in the video below:

More interestingly for me, is the fact that she has a PhD in physics, so I can relate to her pretty well. She’s a great role model, and from her teaching you can see she allies the strictness that is sometimes associated with older Iyengar teachers (as yoga is, and should be, serious business) with a softer, caring side and a great humour.

It seemed to me that she was a bit disappointed with the practice level during the workshop (though she did not say anything of the sort). She had planned to work on the hips in headstand for exemple, but made us all come down and look at Bobby Clennel (who was participating) to show what a stable base looks like). I could only go on Sunday, as I am working on Monday, but the whole workshop was open to Level 3+ students. But somehow already previously have I noticed quite a big gap between the practice at Level 3 and Level 4, and a difference between what these levels mean between the Netherlands and the US (or at least NYC). Most definitely the headstand practice is not as strong in NYC. I’ve only been to a Level 2 class  in NYC once, and I was a bit flabbergasted to find out that everyone was expected to do headstand at the wall. In Utrecht, 90% of Level 2 practitioners would do headstand away from the wall, if not in the middle of the room. But then again, I always find the headstand practice too short during classes at the NYC Institute. Now, the Level 4s are true Level 4s, but I was under the impression that these are really targeted at full-time teachers (since who else can make it for a two hour class in the middle of the day?).

Anyways, back to topic. It was a 3-hour workshop, so relatively short. And initially, during the first hour of standing poses, I didn’t feel very inspired. I felt like I wasn’t learning anything, mainly because the cues were going everywhere. She did try to focus on the core / hips and even extension of the trunk, but she constantly was getting back to legs and arms, I guess because stability in the poses was lacking. But once we started working on sitting poses, I starting getting much more out of the workshop.

It was mainly a twist class, with the focus on even extension as I mentioned previously. In all poses (also standing) but especially forward bends, we should pay attention to getting an even extension of the front and the back of the body (true for all lims, but here she was talking about the trunk). As we learn to straighten up and lengthen the spine, the tendency is to push the lower ribs forwards / lower back in, which is fine to do in the beginning to get the lift or when beginners learn to stretch, but once more advanced practitioners bend forward the lift or extension has to be even on the front and back body.

We did Bharavadjasana II and Gabriella was very careful about how we should hold the Padmasana foot and said “it’s the foot that holds the hand, not the hand that holds the foot!” which resonated well with me as giving the power to the foot instead of trying to pull with the hand is not only less risky for the Padmasana knee, but it also left me feeling more even. At this point she was trying to get us to lift the spine more, and so she said this amazing sentence “Don’t be like a tube of toothpaste, be like… (she was looking for an exemple here) a broccoli!”

Would you rather look like this?

Or like that? Look at that extension!!!                                                                                                                           (now I keep on imagining my chest as a broccoli during twists)

After that, we practiced Janu Sirsasana and she mentioned that you do not want to turn the chest towards the straight leg, but instead you want to slide the ribs from the straight leg side out, while you slide the ribs of the bent leg down. Really interesting perspective on the pose, which I found very helpful to keep the chest more even.

Finally, in Paschimottanasana, she mentioned that having weight on the ankles help to improve extension. While we are supposed to keep the ankles heavy by ourselves, she said that we could also put weight on them to help feel the extension ( we did not do that in the class).

So overall I did enjoy the workshop and learn some new things. Gabriella is a great teacher, and you can get some pearls of wisdom in the classes available (for free) on Roads To Bliss on Youtube:


Finding my inner teacher

I’m currently in California, away from my usual, well-organized life. “On holidays” before my thesis defense, though actually still arranging things for the defense and writing my second first-author article.

It’s the first time in a very long time that I not only keep an hour-long daily practice minimum, and probably the first time ever when I’m not going to or following classes. And it’s definitely an interesting experience.

This week is the third of the month, so I’m practicing sitting poses. I think it’s the first time I’m spending so much time sitting on my mat. In a way it’s not as difficult as I expected (for beginners – which I’m still somewhat part of, at least in the Iyengar system – sitting poses are the most difficult to stay in). On the other hand, it is sometimes very confronting to be only with yourself.

I was thinking how incredibly hard it must have been for Guruji to keep on practicing and exploring in the beginning after he moved to Pune. I do realize that his relationship with his Guru was very different from the one I have with mine, however he learned so much from Krishnamacharya. It must have been so challenging to move to a town where he didn’t know anyone to teach something that was considered “stupid” at the time, notwithstanding continuing his own practice and exploration of all that yoga has to offer.

In a way we have it so easy, being able to regularly follow classes and learn from amazing teachers who sometime travel from a different continent to get to us! If one feels a bit down, unmotivated or uninspired, it is very easy to just go to class and get energy from the “flow” of the class. Of course on the other side, I’ve noticed that I can be pretty drained energy-wise after teaching a class.

Anyways, this is a good lesson which I hope to keep with me for a while. I feel that we humans are often attracted to the opposite of what we need. For example people who would benefit most from staying longer in poses will be attracted to more flowy styles of yoga. Self-practice, though very beneficial, is rarely done by students. It’s actually really hard for many people to get started with a home practice, yet it is where there is most room for growth.

Do you practice at home? What have you learned from yourself-practice? And how do you keep practicing when you can’t go to class?

A parisian adventure

I spent last week in Paris, visiting my brother and sister in law. And as the obvious Iyengar-fanatic I am, I found a way to go to the Iyengar institute in Paris. I have to say it was quite the adventure. First, it was my first Iyengar class in French, ever. Second, my own teacher had told me that she was a little “impressed” by Corine Biria, one of the senior French Iyengar yoga teachers who teaches at the institute, so I was a little apprehensive – for Hiske is not one to be easily impressed.

Image result for corine biria iyengar yoga

Corine Biria in Sheffield in 2002

Actually getting to one of the “high” level classes requires calling or dropping by the Institute beforehand, to check on your level. Even though they are clearly advertised as being tough classes on the website, I guess they had bad surprises beforehand. The class I ended up going to was a Level 4-5 2 hour class on Thursday morning. On the website they require that the practitioner is able to hold head- and shoulderstand easily for 15 minutes before attending. They have a Level 5-6 class for which the requirement is 20 minutes. While I felt relatively confident I would be able to hold a 15 minutes headstand (though probably not easily), I thought 20 minutes might be an overshot so I applied for the Level 4-5. When I called, the secretary asked for my level and I was like “huh, I have the Introductory certificate” – secretary: “I or II?” -me “huh, I-II?” -secretary “ok, are you aware this is an intense class?” – me, nervously laughing “huh, yeah?!” -secretary “alright well send me your name and birth date by email and I’m checking you in”.


Even though I had gone through the prescreening, when I actually got to the studio, I had to wait until Corine actually OK-ed me before I was in – a couple of minutes waiting that seemed very long… So I was a bit apprehensive about the class, as you can imagine.


If you’ve never been to the Institute in Paris, it’s in the XVIth arrondissement, aka the most expensive and chic part of Paris. It is located in a Haussmanian building, with amazingly beautiful wooden floors and murals. However, the practice room is small, even for Paris. Especially now that I am used to the immensity of the studio in Utrecht, it was a real change. I don’t know exactly how many people were attending the class, but I guess around 30, and every single inch of the floor was used. Mats were all touching and almost overlapping. I have to say that during balancing work I was quite afraid of falling over my neighbor and ending up in a domino effect.

Visuel 1

The practice room of the parisian institute

It was the first week of the month, so we practiced standing poses. Starting with wide stand Utthanasana, focusing on activating the feet and legs, especially the inner knee, then Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana, another Utthanasana this time with feet together. From there, classical sequencing of Trikonasana, Parvritta Trikonasana, Utthita Parsvokonasana via Virabhradasana II, Parvritta Parsvokonasana, Ardha Chandrasana and Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana. We did most poses twice, especially the Parvrittas, with what seemed like very long timings. The main focus was the buttocks, and we especially spent some time on the buttock use in Ardha Chandrasana and Parvritta Ardha Chandrasana.


NB: practice note for myself: I was corrected in Uttanasana because my right leg was not working as much as the left one.


I’ll try to describe the different actions. First, there are two planes of actions, which I will describe as being perpendicular or alongside the spine. In the perpendicular plane, the buttocks action can be separated into three components:

  • The lower part of the buttocks should go downwards and connect to the hamstrings. Corine insisted that many of us didn’t learn how to use our hamstrings yet (and I have to say I am having a hard time with this; since I injured my left hamstring I have realized how much I wasn’t using my hamstrings, which are long, but not strong. Working on it since, but it’s on and off).
  • The middle part should go inwards (towards the tailbone). This I find relatively easy / have learned to do during YTT.
  • The top part should lengthen upwards. Now, this I also sort of learned to do in teacher training, and it helped correcting my anterior pelvic tilt – but old habits die hard, and if I don’t pay attention or if the pose is a not-so-often practiced (thinking of you, vrikchikasana!), I end up losing the control on my abs and start crunching up my lower back again.

I think I have already referenced this article before, but there are some more details about these three components here.

Now for the spinal plane, I had never heard the instructions before. We looked at the pelvis of different people performing the pose and Corine pointed out which parts were open and which weren’t, after which we had to work on our own “issues”, with the instruction of getting both buttocks laterally away from the spine, so that the left buttock and the right buttock were both evenly giving space to the spine to stretch. We also practiced this with the help of the wall in the Chandrasanas, for more stability but ease of movement due to the wide angles between the legs and the trunk.


Thinking back, it was a very lateralized class, as I (and my side ribs) also remember the instructions of moving the breasts away from the sternum, and the right breast away from the left breast (with even more detailed instructions during the parvrittas).


Anyways, after all these we went on with Virabradhasana I and III, before Sirsasana finally got called up (we did have a couple of Utthanasanas and Prasaritta Padottanasana to recover in between some standing poses, and there was one Downward Dog at some point early on). I don’t know if Sirsasana was genuinely 15 minutes, but I stayed up the whole time and it didn’t feel so long; I think it is because 10 minutes without instructions is mentally exhausting whereas I most likely have the strength to hold longer headstands. Anyways, Corine said something incredibly poetic which I hope to translate properly: “In Sirsasana, think of the shoulder blades as of the wings of a bird beginning to fly”. Beautiful way to describe the outward rotation of the shoulderblades, isn’t it?


Finally, the class ended with Shoulderstand / Halasana, followed by Chatuspadasana before the final Savasana. I have to say I was surprised to hear the class was over; as often with great teachers, time flies (and yoga happens; it was two hours of living in the present moment).


In any case a very interesting experience, would definitely recommend going if you get the chance. I did have few vocabulary issues, but if I really didn’t get it Corine would point out what she was talking about on my body. And I gotta say that everyone in the class was incredibly nice and welcoming; they even gently made fun when I said I lacked some vocabulary after class and let me know that it was also “Corine words”.