Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Asana Kitchen: Dropping Back Parts 1-2

Greetings! I'm excited to offer parts 1 and 2 of a 3 part Asana Kitchen video series answering our most popular question to date: how to successfully drop back into a back bend and then stand up! Part One looks at the principles of dropping back and standing. Part Two addresses the problem of the heels lifting going down and the feet splaying out when coming back up.
Get out your mat, warm up your back and try to do what I have presented in the video's. You will benefit more by doing rather than simply watching and then trying to remember what to do the next time you practice.
Regardless of your level of experience, I recommend you watch and work with both video's because each part contains important basic information for more beginning students and subtler, nuanced information for more experienced students.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interview on Prescribing Yoga

I recently did an interview on the blog Prescribing Yoga and I would like to share it with all of you. It has some relevant information on the practice that I feel would be beneficial for each of you. I would also like to thank Christina Palmer for having such an amazing and informational blog as well as asking me insightful questions regading Yoga and the practice.

How did you first learn about yoga?

I was sixteen and working as a bus boy. The dishwasher was really into metaphysics, supernatural phenomenons, UFO's, conspiracy theories, etc, and one day he told me about Yoga. That afternoon he took me to the local park and showed me Surya Namaskara. From that point on I was practicing Sun Salutations.

Tell us about the path your yoga practice has taken.

In 1991 I placed 4th in the Seattle Marathon after training rigorously for a few months and my body became completely tight and so I went to an Iyengar Yoga class. I got hooked and started going everyday. Eventually, I found two important teachers who lit the fire of Yoga in me and helped me to choose to make Yoga my life path. Then in 1993 I saw a video of Pattabhi Jois teaching his students (Freeman, Chuck and Tim) and saw in the Yoga Journal that he was coming to LA. I went and studied with him for one month. Then in '94 I went to India and was there almost continuously for two years. At the end of that time Guruji certified me. I went back to Seattle and for ten years ran the Ashtanga Yoga School always returning to India nearly one or twice a year to work with Guruji.

On one of my first visits to India I discovered singing and started practicing Bhakti Yoga by way of music. I now consider myself a practitioner of both Bhakti and Hatha Yoga.

For the past few years, I have started to make a more organized and conscious choice to share what I'm learning through social media: dvd's, cd's, and blogging. All of these media outlets are pushing me to go deeper into teaching as a service and to share what I have been given. And that's where I continually see my future leading, continuing to practice, study and share what I'm learning.

Who have been your greatest yoga teachers and why?

Marie Svoboda, who taught me about the process of going into an asana and that what is most important is the process not the end. She also taught me about rhythm.

Aadil Palkhivala, who still teaches in Seattle. He is a senior Iyengar teacher and taught me to think creatively and therapeutically about the body. And how to endlessly refine an asana. He also taught me how to appreciate when a magical atmosphere arises in a class.

Ramanad Patel, who teaches workshops worldwide and taught me about combining Bhakti Yoga and asana work in a class.

Pattabhi Jois, who taught me everything... how to stand on my own and how to be a complete anchor. And how to be yourself. And how much power we each have. Guruji wasn't playing around or putting on an act.

What motivates you to practice every day?

How much better I feel when I practice. And how alive I feel. And how I can finally feel my life force really flow. And the mental places that I go when I practice. The concentration that I can achieve. And also the physical benefits.

Why do you practice Ashtanga yoga?

Because Ashtanga Yoga is the only type that can adequately allow me to work with my energy the way that feels right to me. I like how physical it is. I also like the concept of Vinyasa and how working with patterns of the breath is the center of the practice.

What is your daily routine like?

I am always busy and doing things. I don't like to feel that I'm wasting my life. I don't consciously keep a schedule but my day is always consistent. If I have to teach Mysore class I wake up at 4AM and practice. Sometimes I can squeeze in some classic Indian scales. I teach at 7AM and when I'm through I go home and eat a whole grain breakfast (sweet brown rice cream, oatmeal, cream of wheat.) Then I either sing again or I begin my writing for the day. At this time I am also double tasking by cooking a macro meal (pressure cooking brown rice, slow cooking vegetables, burdock, Kimpira). But either way I will be singing or writing until I eat at 3PM. This is when I usually take a two hour break. A break usually involves some reading, a cat nap or helping my partner Joy on her film projects. But at around 5PM I start revving up again, answering emails, sometimes Joy and I will film, but most days I'm writing until its time to sleep at around 10pm. I don't need a lot of sleep, never have.

Tell us about your diet.

I practice a wide macrobiotics. Because I'm not sick so for me the macro diet does not need to be narrow. But I also have a Yin disposition and therefore, am inclined towards Yin foods (sugar, alcohol, caffeine) so I have to be very conscious to eat the Yang foods my body needs in order to be balanced. The most hearty Yang foods are short grain brown rice, burdock, turnip, daikon, carrots, and then cooked for hours. One of the things I love about the macro diet is that you do put a lot of energy into making the food but in the end you have an amazingly tasty and healthy dish. Its not like you spend hours in the kitchen making Fettucine Alfredo, where the result is tasty food, but also super high in fat.

What are 3 pieces of advice you would give serious yoga practitioners about their diet?

I've said it before: The diet is the final frontier for a Yogi. Its a lot easier for people to acclimate to waking up and going to bed earlier, or being more physically tired throughout the day, but eating a proper diet is really challenging. My advice is more on how to transition into a healthier diet.

#1 Be kind to yourself when your transitioning into a healthier diet. This is where most people have trouble. If you start off too extreme… cutting out everything you enjoy and just eating brown rice and turnips, you will probably not hold the diet. It takes a long time to change your diet so transition slowly. In the beginning eat the occasional slice of cheese and slice of cake.

#2: Get onto whole grains. Buy a pressure cooker and a grain meal and learn to use them. The food tastes a whole lot better.

#3: Most importantly, make a very careful study of how the food you eat affects your practice. You really have to study this because you want to have an optimum practice each day. This means you have to feel when your body system and digestion is ready to practice. So when your practicing take note of how you feel and what it was that you ate yesterday. And then if you observe carefully and long enough your practice will teach you what you need to eat.

What advice do you have for people interested in starting a yoga practice?

I'm biased but I think that Ashtanga is the best practice. And the way to learn Ashtanga is to find a teacher who teaches Mysore. Sign up for the month and follow their instruction. If you can't get access to a teacher then a dvd can do it. Also, make an intention within yourself to honor your body. If you want to start a Yoga practice you need to realize that Yoga is a large path. There's a lot to it. Its a discipline that takes several years to understand and get established in, and in the beginning, you don't have to understand very much of it. You only have to make a start. Start small and simple and see how you feel and see where that takes you. And continue to feel what's happening and value what you feel. Don't do too much too soon. And be careful not to get swept away by your ego trying asanas that your body is not ready for because you can get hurt.

What advice do you have for people with busy schedules who must maintain a home practice?

1: Have a consistent time that you practice.

2: If you only have the energy to do ten minutes, five minutes, one Sun Salutation, then just do that. Again, you have to be kind to yourself. Because that one sun Salutation will carry you onto the next morning when you may feel like doing the entire Primary.

How has your practice changed over the past 10 years?

My body has aged. I've slowed down some. I value breathing and simplicity much more. My focus is way deeper, way more subtle, as well as my breath. I still love practicing but for very different reasons. Now, I love the very moment that it's happening rather then what I'm going to get out of it when I'm done.

How do you see your practice changing over the next 10 years?

I don't know what's in store and I'm happy about that. I only know that I will be doing it and it's bound to get deeper and take me to new places that I've never gone. And I'm excited about that.

What is your biggest fear?

I tried to just think of one but this is what came out: That for whatever reason people can't relate to my experience. That I haven't gone deep enough. That I haven't applied myself enough. I'll run out of time before I've gotten the chance to really find my wisdom. That I can't face and accept my ugliness and join in healing around that.

Who have been the most influential people influencing your health habits?
Pattabhi Jois
Marie Sbavoda
Macrobiotic teachers (AnneMarie Colbin, Herman Aihara, Michel Abehsera)
My mom

If you could tell a room of thousands of people one piece of life advice, what would it be?

You have an incredible reserve of life force within you that is meant to be positively channelled to heal yourself and the world. So face whatever demons that block you and use your power to heal and move life forward.

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell your 25-year old self?

Don't be afraid. You have so much power and so much talent just go for it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


In this new post I speak about the concept action in asana, action as a catalyst to the revolution within you. There is a wide range from (superficial to deep) of what constitutes action in asana. At times cultivating action may mean that you activate specific muscle groups to move your bones and achieve dynamic alignment of the skeleton. When you lengthen your hamstring muscles in a forward bend, you must contract the quadriceps muscles in the front thighs. The action here is to engage the opposing muscle group to achieve a dynamism between agonist and antagonist muscle groups.

This action works the hamstring safely but also shapes the leg intelligently and leads to the deeper, more subtle action of pressing the thigh bone further into the leg. (called grounding the femur). Grounding the femur ensures that the femur sits comfortably in the hip socket and helps optimize the transfer of weight from the pelvis through the legs, feet into the earth. Grounding the femur puts you in touch with the musculature of the pelvic floor and helps awaken mula bandha.

At first cultivating action in asana may seem like something small, tedious or doing a lot of work for little or no results. But the effort you put forth to activate certain opposing muscle groups or to properly align your skeleton in each posture serves as a foundational pillar of your health, progress and growth. That effort helps you to better cleanse and work your body safely and sustainably, it sharpens the mind, gives extraordinary powers of concentration, and opens you to the interior limbs of ashtanga yoga.

The internal basis of action in asana practice is to train your senses to remain awake to the inner feelings of the body. You develop highly tuned sensory receptors that reach throughout the inner field of the body. These receptors bring back energetic information that helps you become aware, helps you penetrate to even the most remote regions of the body. You develop special eyes that see inward, special ears that listen within and most importantly a special 'skin' that helps you feel within. As the senses become 'purified' and internalized you become more conscious better able to harness life force and direct it where you find flow and harmony.

When you begin to work with actions in the body you go to a deeper level to perceive the pattern behind the movements of seemingly unrelated parts. Your skeletal, respiratory, psychological, nervous, digestive, circulatory---all of the major systems of your being both conscious and unconscious begin to act together. This leads you to comprehend a universality that connects and aligns the entire field within you.

Then instead of each breath, posture or transition feeling singular or disconnected or otherwise separate from the whole, the practice becomes one continuous expansion into greater awareness where the folding and unfolding movement patterns draw forth your deep, intuitive body intelligence.

This may sound abstract or complex but actually it's very intuitive and simple like when you have an instantaneous dawning insight, an 'aha'. It's also like learning to get the knack of how to do a difficult posture. The biggest trick of all is to learn how to stay oriented inside your body through your changing mental states, for long enough to really observe and to transform your unconsidered, gross motion into powerful movement that is born from intelligent awareness.

When your practice is centered in the foundational patterns of postures, your ideas of what constitutes an advanced posture will get upended. It is how you go about even the most basic posture that determines its depth. The limitless extent to which you can optimize your breathing and align your postures reveals the wisdom and layered depth contained in each asana.
You find the advanced asana has less to do with how bendable or strong you are, and more with the way you perceive action and the play of opposites. You learn how to align your self and work with (not against) the physical limits of your body.

Creating action within a posture leads you away from placing too much importance on an end goal for your asana. This helps you work safely as you go further. You tune in plainly to your present circumstance and direct your consciousness along positive, active channels in order to invite opening and transformation. Through action you gain the knowledge and skill to go beyond either unfocused, mindlessness or endlessly engaging with and getting caught in your continual stream of moods. You get better at transcending the range of your mental turnings, your enthusiasms, zeal, hardships, skepticisms, fears and such states that obscure your wisdom and appreciation.

The value of action in asana practice is found precisely in that it gives you ways to positively channel your fire, the passionate energy within you that needs expression. By investigating the action required to align a posture you are investigating both how to expand more into your joyous consciousness and how to respond positively to the obstacles that you encounter within yourself.