Tag Archives: yoga

Another Blog Bites The Dust

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Blogging is hard. That’s not what I thought before I started this blog over year ago today. You always hear, “any idiot can start a blog,” and yes, while that is true, it takes someone with a lot of creativity and perseverance to maintain a blog that is worth reading. I started off strong thinking “one blog a week? NBD!,” but slowly started to fizz out after my first few posts and never ended up clearing that 10-post hurdle. Another blog bites the dust.  Continue reading

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To Om or Not to Om

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I barely remember anything from the political science class that all the undergrads in my college were required to take. If you asked me to explain the electoral college, I’d return to you the same expression that the Miss U.S.A.s give when asked who the Vice President is. But I’ll always remember one thing that my wise professor said:

“Language codifies our perception.”

As the whole John Friend/Anusara scandal is reaching the point of no one gives a shit, I can’t help but pay closer attention to the words that are used in the yoga classes I attend.

Since most classes commence with a chant, let’s start there. Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed that my Anusara instructor has slowly weaned away from the Anusara invocation which I’ve chanted a countless number of times over the past four years:

Om namah shivaya gurave
Satchidananda murtaye
Nishprapanchaya Shantaya
Niralambaya tejase 

When I first started Anusara, I loved chanting the invocation. I thought it unified all the yogis in the room with all the other yogis in the world chanting the exact same invocation. But then I started thinking how exclusionary it must feel for new students who just happened to drop in to class. And eventually I started saying the invocation with as much passion as a kid forced to pledge allegiance to the flag before recess. So, I can’t say I’ve lost any sleep over not saying the chant before class. Last night, however, one my teachers handed the students and me a new – and complicated – invocation. Every time an instructor hands out a new invocation or does a call-and-repeat, I feel like a waiter being forced to recite the specials of the night with complicated ingredients.

But that’s enough waxing nostalgic. Let’s get to the freakin asana already.

It’s only natural that a lot of Anusara teachers who’ve performed an official or mental jump-ship from John Friend are doing things that don’t tie them into the Anusara brand. It’s been a blue moon since I’ve heard an instructor mention the 5 Universal Principles of Alignment. They are instructing the same alignment and cues, but the words are different conscientiously. It’s simple branding. Right after the John Friend scandal, Manduka was lightning-quick to stop production on the mats they developed with Friend himself. If you look at many teacher bios these days, you’ll notice that the overlapping theme is that no one is tying themselves with a particular style. The overlapping philosophy is that they take what they’ve learned from certain styles and apply it to their own perspective of yoga.

When I started taking classes from my current favorite teacher, I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t start his classes with Om. I thought it weird and sacrilegious. Instead, we just sit in silent mediation for a couple of minutes. I prefer to start my practices this way now. Instead of chanting Om or some invocation that has some ascribed meaning of intrinsic goodness, I simply let myself be quiet and feel whatever it is I’m feeling in that moment.  If you asked a bunch of yoga teachers what the literal definition of “Om” or “Namaste” is, I guarantee that you will get a different definition every single time. Sometimes silence is the most advanced component of a practice because it provides us space to codify our own perception.

And that’s how it should be… or more accurately I’ve found out that’s how my practice should be. Some people love things like chanting and Kirtan. My philosophy: chanting is silver, but silence is golden. What’s yours?

-The Humble Warrior

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Public Displays of Yoga

I’m not a fan of PDA, but I am guilty of PDY: Public Displays of Yoga.

Today, The Baltimore Chop posted an editorial, titled “Stop Doing Yoga in Public.” It’s safe to say that the author is not doing Natarajasana outdoors:

“Listen yoga people: when we see you downtown on the edge of the water standing on one foot welcoming the dawn and chanting mantras, it’s all we can do not to shove you into the harbor. It’s gauche. You look like an asshole. You are an asshole.”

Being "gauche" in Beijing

Admittedly, the author states that the article is half-satire. I’ll admit, PDY can be annoying. Maybe SFO built the world’s first yoga room so that yogis would stop headstanding on the moving walkways. But, asshole? Damn. That’s a wee harsh. Sometimes there’s a misconception that yogis are either pushing their spiritual agenda or flaunting their physical practice when doing yoga outside the studio. I don’t think that’s the case. Sometimes yogis just want to practice or meditate out in nature. Sometimes yogis just want to take a picture mid-asana and make it their profile picture. Not unlike a couple making-out on a park bench, it’s really not that big of a deal or that interesting. It’s not like we’re playing naked bongos outside.

So tell me, do you partake in PDY? Or am I the only asshole in the room?

-The Humble Warrior

Impressive PDY!

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Be A Yoga Slut

A couple of years ago, I was a total yoga slut. I would take class from any teacher who taught at my go-to studio. Soon enough, there was no teacher left on the roster who I hadn’t yet experienced. I was proud of this knowledge. I felt worldly in that I possessed knowledge of who lived up to the hype and who didn’t.

Chances are if you take from well-known teachers, you are used to their absences as they teach workshops afar or abroad. This leads me to the dreaded subject of subs. There’s nothing worse than having a stressful day, expecting that you’ll restore some bliss at your usual class, only to find out – either in advance online or at the moment you enter the studio – that a sub is teaching!

You have a few options:
a) Don’t do yoga. Your teacher’s hiatus is your hiatus.
b) Google the hell out of the sub to see if you want to take their class. Check their website, credentials, and photos while you’re at it.
c) Take class from the sub.
d) (If you didn’t know in advance) Run out of the studio before the sub sees you – as fast as you can if you happen to know him or her.

The answer is alway C, right? Unfortunately, as we become experienced yogis, we sometimes become jaded yogis. It’s ironic how inflexible we become. We have our usual teachers because we know that they consistently deliver, and we cast subs off as wild cards. But regardless of whether a sub is good or bad, they always have something unique to offer: their point-of-view. It’s important to experience different perspectives in yoga so that we don’t turn into clones of our teachers. A sub might offer a different cue or access point that your usual teacher would not be able to offer.

The teacher should never be more important than the practice. As much as we love our teachers, it’s important not to get attached to them. It’s only natural to have a preference for certain teachers, but they shouldn’t be the catalyst for your practice. Maintaining a non-attached practice is important because God-forbid if your teacher moves away, you wouldn’t be left high and dry.

So, when it comes to who you’ll practice with, be promiscuous. You’ll be all the wiser for it.

-The Humble Warrior

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It’s All Good, Broga.

Lugging your yoga mat around the city (especially in San Francisco) is like walking a puppy in that the topic inevitably creeps its way into your conversations with everyday strangers. Initially, it’s a pretty generic Q&A that I don’t mind answering (how long? where? what style? etc.), but it gets interesting when you get to hear others people’s take on yoga – especially with men.

From my experience, a lot of men are pretty very skeptical about trying yoga. Lotuses, chanting, yoga pants… need I say more? A barista I was chatting with the other day told me that he wasn’t flexible enough and that he wanted to get more flexible before he tried yoga. I wanted to shout out, “NO, you don’t have to! It’s all about coming as you are. It’s not about what the guy (woman, more probably) next to you is doing, but that you are doing your own practice.” Thank God I didn’t say that because it sounds pretty lame and probably would not make him any more likely to try yoga. But those are the words I hear all time in yoga classes. It’s not about what the person next to you is doing. While I agree with that statement, it’s practically meaningless to new students. If they have no idea what Eka Pada Rajakapotasana is then it’s all about what the person next to you is doing. And if that new student is an inflexible guy who happens to practice next to a naturally bendy girl who can smile while in Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, it can be pretty discouraging.

There are a bunch of factors for why men are skeptical about trying yoga:

  • Most yoga classes these days are All-level meaning that many students already have a consistent practice.
  • Men don’t get to utilize their brute strength like they’re used to using in other activities.
  • The ratio of men to women in a yoga class is that of a typical ballet class (unless you’re in a big city).
  • Most yoga classes are taught by women.

So, how can we get more dudes to try out yoga?

Broga.

When I first heard the term, I was simultaneously intrigued and repulsed. I imagined a douchey frat boy kicking into a headstand while performing a keg stand all at the same time. I kept thinking that I didn’t need a dumbed-down version of yoga in order for me to start practicing. But then I got off my high-horse and realized that it’s just not how I perceive a typical yoga class as being. A prototypical yoga class now wasn’t the prototypical yoga class taught in India a couple centuries ago. So-what if a typical Broga class has no spiritual component or incorporates core work worthy of a P90X workout. There are yoga classes catered specifically to women, so creating a yoga class that caters specifically to men should be just as worthy. Any yoga is good yoga, in my book. Alan Nett, a certified Iyengar teacher, met construction workers halfway by teaching at their work sites and naming poses after construction tools that the workers were familiar with. So maybe it’s time to meet our potential Bro-gis halfway. And who knows, Broga classes could be the stepping stone that arms dudes with the curiosity to try out other styles of yoga.

And one day, just maybe, they’ll be chanting Om Namah Shivaya… like the rest of us weirdos. And if not, who gives a shit. It’s all good, bro.

-The Humble Warrior

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Jiro Dreams of Sushi [Review]

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Tsukiji Fish Market

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Sushi from Sushi Dai

 

I’m so happy that food porn from Japan isn’t pixelated.

Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to fully admire the sushi in the documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. For a mere 30,000 yen ($362USD at the moment!), you can dine at the tiny Sukiyabashi Jiro, tucked underneath the subway station in the affluent Ginza district in Tokyo. The restaurant can seat ten, has 3 Michelin stars, and requires a reservation one month in advance… and I was impatient when I had to wait an hour to eat at Sushi Dai in Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market to eat the best sushi I’ve had in my life so far.

Along with the massive amounts of sushi porn shown in Jiro, you also get a glimpse of Japanese work ethics: patience and perseverance, especially. Patience is evident when you see chef Jiro’s son and protégé – who is arguably a master sushi chef himself – performing seemingly arbitrary tasks such as drying seaweed with as much dedication as a seasoned yogi taking Downward Dog for the umpteenth time. And Jiro himself, now 85 years old, shows perseverance by showing up to work every day to try to elevate his craft. One thing that Jiro said that really stuck with me is (and I’m paraphrasing here), “You must fall in love with your work. And then you must give your life to it.”

Films like Jiro remind you to find the things that you love doing because you can never be a master at something you don’t love doing. Sounds as simple as putting a piece of fish on top of rice and calling it sushi. But we all know it’s not that easy. The things we love take practice. And more practice. And more practice.

-The Humble Warrior

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Shut Up And Do Your Yoga

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John was a bullfrog, he was a good Friend of mine.

I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his whine.

He always had some mighty fine wine.

 

Have you been drinking the wine or the Ku-laid? For the past two months, it seems like all the yoga community has been talking about is the John Friend scandal. Allegations from jfexposed.com have sparked a virtual frenzy, and it’s been a trending topic on YogaDork, Elephant Journal, The Huffington Post, and (just today) The Washington Post ever since.  Even Anusara Inc. and John Friend himself have been sending their own newsletters to update the community on reformations within the company. Keeping up with the reformations has been a tireless process: you would find out that a select group of renowned Anusura teachers were founding an ethics committee one day, and two days later you would find out that some of those same teachers would have dropped all affiliations with Anusara altogether; you would find out that Anusara announced a new CEO, and two weeks later you would find that that was no longer the case; and the list goes on and on. And if you’ve been following along like I have, I’m sure you’re just as sick of the word “transparency” as I am.

Four years ago, the first yoga studio I stepped into was an Anusara studio. I was 19 at the time and had no idea that there were different yoga styles, and I picked the studio based on price and proximity to the BART station. I didn’t choose Anusara for its alignment principles or tantric philosophy, but I stayed with it for those reasons. In 2010, I went to my first yoga workshop: the “Melt Your Heart, Blow Your Mind” workshop taught by Friend himself. I wouldn’t say that the workshop blew my mind or that Friend isn’t a talented and inspirational teacher, but I’d say that my regular instructors have been more heart-melting and mind-blowing to me. However, some of my regular instructors have had their “hearts melted” and “minds blown” by Friend, and I get to reap the benefits from them instead.

At the end of the day, John Friend is just a regular guy with flaws like everybody else. Just as Friend’s misconduct shouldn’t be excused, his achievements shouldn’t be ignored either. Friend has created a valid system that has taken on a life of its own, so I think it’s incorrect and unfair when some people equate the end of his celebrated career with the end of Anusara. That’s not to say that the system won’t change. Change is inevitable. “Anusara” means to flow with grace. So, hopefully Anusara can ride the waves of this scandal, opposed to being swept away by it.

-The Humble Warrior

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Spring Cleaning & Awakening

Dhanurasana (bow pose) is one of those poses that requires everything I’ve got in me: I have to be aware that my shins are squeezing to the midline; I have to attempt to get my upper body into a Cobra-like shape; and on top of all of that I have to lift my knees as high as I can while my thunder-thighs are adamantly refusing to defy gravity. Luckily, after Dhanurasana most teachers provide a brief respite from their asana sequence. And since I have to use up all of my fuel to try to mimic the weapon of The Hunger Games, I accept that respite gratefully. I lay one side of my cheeks onto my mat, close my eyes, and inhale deeply through my nose… and suddenly I’m not so grateful because all I can do is focus on the funk emanating from my yoga mat, instead of settling into the brief moment of repose I worked so hard for! All I can focus on is the synergetic funk of my feet, my teachers’ feet, and my classmates’ feet on my Private Idaho of a mat. Instead of resting, my mind is elsewhere thinking, “When’s the last time I cleaned my mat?!” I know, how unyoga.

So today, I just cleaned. I cleaned my house and my mat like Annette Bening cleans on Open House day (minus the crazy mantras). I didn’t go to any yoga class (which is rare for me these days). I just cleaned. And I must admit that today, I’ve done the most “yoga” I’ve done all week. No bending, twisting, or contorting required.  Cleaning the shit off my floor and my mat was much more enlightening than learning any new pose would have been.

Sometimes we can gain the most from doing the littlest things. It seems counterintuitive because the standard paradigm typically dictates that we need to get more to benefit more: more poses, more clothes, more information, etc. But sometimes the most beneficial thing we can do is to take inventory of what we already have. Then we can clear out the unnecessary. Then we can see if more would be beneficial.

It’s easy to see a gain as a benefit because normally, when we want something, we do something to get it. But sometimes by doing less, we can see more we can declutter the unnecessary so that our vision can fine-tune on the things that really would benefit us.

Cause the last thing we need in the studios are more funky mats.

-The Humble Warrior

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The Bendy Ideal

Just recently, I’ve finished reading Susan Cain’s book about introversion titled, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Throughout the book all I could think and feel was, “Finally someone gets it!” In a culture where extroversion is prized and introversion is despised, should we all aspire to be the ideal extrovert? That’s certainly what I’ve thought and have attempted to do for most of my life. But alas, Cain says no, we don’t have to. And thank God, because I was always the one at the club thinking, “Why the fuck am I getting drained while everyone else around me is getting more and more hyphy as the night goes on?” Quiet goes into detail about how we all have inborn temperaments and – for the most part – it’s best to stick within our comfort zones. That’s not to say that if you’re an introvert,  you should seclude yourself from the rambunctiousness of the outside world. Instead, introverts should be selective in finding a balance between solitude (which tends to rejuvenate an introvert) and social stimulation (which tends to tax an introvert).

Now, how does this relate to yoga?

In the yoga world, there tends to be an ideal body type: the bendy type. And why not? Flexible yogis who can execute difficult poses are visually appealing and make damn good cover shots for Yoga Journal. While a generous range of motion is not a bad thing (in fact it can be a great thing and a great thing to aspire to) – much like extroversion – it’s vastly overrated. Some of my greatest yoga instructors have a more limited range of motion, and those limitations have given them a better understanding of the subtle body – an understanding that might have been skipped if a generous range of motion allowed them to rest on their loins (no pun intended). Like temperaments, we are all born with a certain body type. While we can make subtle changes to our body in terms of flexibility, it can be unwise and unsafe to reach too far beyond our body’s natural range of motion; moreover, overreaching can be counterproductive to the yoga practice itself because the ultimate goal should be to gain a better understanding of your body and yourself, not to reach a certain level or series.

It’s important to see our strengths within our limitations. For instance, you might not be an ideal networker, but you may be able to delve into a task with more rigor than someone who needs more social stimulation. As for me, I can barely wrap my arms around each other in Eagle pose because of my tight shoulders, but I can hold Downward Dog for days because of the stability my tight shoulders provide. Susan Cain ends her book on a sweet note by saying, “The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.”

So, use your power wisely.

-The Humble Warrior

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