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Hands down, some of the funniest Ashtanga-related videos — maybe ever

April 23, 2014
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Disclaimer: I would not trust the findings and advice in the first two videos. But I do love how they say “Ashtaanga” and “Kr-eye-pa-lu,” especially.

And there’s this:

Finally, this one gets sort of close, but on the least substantive issue:

There’s plenty more of these, believe it or not. After a long, crazy day, I was ready for a laugh. So these came at a good time.

Posted by Steve

Sonima Foundation reportedly to announce expansion of school yoga program

April 22, 2014

If you are on the Jois Yoga email list, you know that on Wednesday night, the Sonima Foundation — the charitable arm of Jois Yoga — is having an open house at the Encinitas studio.

It looked pretty straight-forward: a kids yoga demo, Q&A with Sonima’s president, Eugene Ruffin, etc. But apparently there’s a little more:

Officials from the Sonima Foundation – formerly the Jois Foundation – are scheduled to speak about how yoga, already part of the health and wellness programs in Encinitas elementary schools, will be expanded to other districts.

The foundation gave more than $500,000 to the Encinitas Union School District to create a yoga program in 2012. Last summer, the foundation gave the district another $1.4 million grant to expand the program.

Sonima already has moved beyond the Encinitas district, and it has programs back in New York and has folks touring the country, per its Tumblr. The question will be: How big is this expansion (both in terms of size/number of students and money) and where — multiple states, many districts?

Posted by Steve

Riding behind the crest of the breath

April 21, 2014
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A handful of years ago, when I spent a week in Tulum with Tim Miller for his Primary Series retreat, one of his suggestions for my practice was to hold the standing poses for twice the usual length — 10 breaths, in other words.

I’ve pretty well stuck with that over the years, except during Led classes or when visiting an unfamiliar shala. (Probably then I’ll still go for six or seven breaths.)

Practicing at home, it’s essentially a given: I hold all of the standing poses that long, at least, and throw in a few other variations (a Hanumanasana sequence after the Prasaritas, for instance) that just seem right, or needed.

During the past week, though, I’ve been a bit pressed for time a couple of mornings, and so the alteration I made was to cut back those standing poses to five breaths. (I think it trims eight or 10 minutes off the practice).

What I observed was a pronounced sense of the movement, the vinyasas, of the standing poses. It feels downright quick to go from right side to left, or left side to twist, or to move through the Prasaritas so quickly. But simultaneously, the power of the breath as the leader of the practice — moving with it, riding the breath (not quite like riding a wave, in my imagination; on a wave, you’re in front of the curl; with the breath, it feels like you’re behind the crest — to me, anyway) — is inescapable.

This isn’t quite the same as what I experienced a couple of years ago after a one breath per pose practice, but it is similar. Thinking back to that, it was all breath and movement. Having the five breaths in the state of the pose, in that stillness of the asana, makes for a sense of “now we’re going” when the movement comes.

Again, the breath seemed more like the leader; in the single-breath variation it was the unity of breath and movement. This time it was stillness, now breath is taking you on, stillness. And somehow too much stillness in between seems to diminish the breath’s proper place. For me, anyway. I suppose optimal time between Vinyasas may vary.

Posted by Steve

Even that rice you’re eating might not be good for you

April 20, 2014
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The old saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” seems custom-made for food knowledge.

It seems the more we know — thankfully coffee is exempt, sort of — the more we realize that what we think is good for us has some obvious downside.

Add rice to the list of foods you can’t just blithely eat without some concern.

According to this piece online at the New York Times, it turns out rice is sort of a sponge for metals and other not-good-for-us things lurking in the soil:

If the fields are flooded in the traditional paddy method, she has found, the rice handily takes up arsenic. But if the water is reduced in an effort to limit arsenic, the plant instead absorbs cadmium — also a dangerous element.

“It’s almost either-or, day-and-night as to whether we see arsenic or cadmium in the rice,” said Dr. Guerinot, a molecular geneticist and professor of biology at Dartmouth College.

The levels of arsenic and cadmium at the study site are not high enough to provoke alarm, she emphasized. Still, it is dawning on scientists like her that rice, one of the most widely consumed foods in the world, is also one of nature’s great scavengers of metallic compounds.

While you aren’t going to OD on one bowl of rice, the problem is the consistent consumption of rice — that adds up. The FDA (which I know we all trust implicitly) now suggests varying the consumption of grain, in part to avoid getting too much bad stuff with any one particular kind. Another example of striking a balance with diet, and just about everything else.

That’s a luxury, though. Rice remains a staple in so many cultures.

Posted by Steve

Another way to think about pain in the Ashtanga practice

April 19, 2014
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The question of pain — perhaps even more precisely, the value of pain — in the Ashtanga practice has been a popular one here. I think our most popular post on the topic was this one: “Why Ashtanga won’t ever be popular.”

David Williams probably is the most famous for promoting a pain-free practice.

Bobbie and I have, for similar but not exactly the same reasons, staked out a position that pain is a necessary aspect to the Ashtanga practice.

Arguments about this idea tend to fall into one of two categories: There are those who affirm or deny that pain is inevitable in the practice, and there are those who want to dissect what someone means by “pain.”

I suppose that latter argument strikes me — to be fairly blunt — as a yogic form of Sophistry. I don’t think it is that hard to agree on the meaning: It hurts, it is something one wants to avoid, but it is something that, at times, has to be endured or experienced in order to learn. It can be physical, emotional, spiritual or psychological.

I’m not sure why some people seem so averse to acknowledging there is some pain to the Ashtanga practice.

At our recent workshop with Tim Miller, he touched on this idea of pain in the practice. He even pulled out a David Williams impression, briefly, as he noted Williams’ anti-pain position.

Tim’s of a different perspective. But he made it clear that we aren’t talking about the pain of forcing the body during asana practice. It is the “overall intensity of the experience of the practice.” There is some discomfort one has to endure, he said. (Clearly, pushing the body is part of that experience.)

And he contrasted that to a lot of modern, Western yoga, which doesn’t seem to want to do too deep — doesn’t want to polish the mirror or peel back the koshas — for fear of what it might find.

For fear, I think it fair to say, of the pain of experience and self-knowledge.

Posted by Steve

Friday asana aid: Karandavasana

April 18, 2014

About a year ago, we held up some videos — including a demo by Sharath — on Karandavasana.

Can we assume that not everyone perfected it since then?

Here’s a few more on this tough Second Series pose. Up first, a new one from the master of the asana video, Kino MacGregor, focused on that getting Lotus part:

And then David Robson demonstrating:

And a David Garrigues video from a couple months ago, with a wall assist for Lotus (clearly one of the tricky parts of this tricky asana):

Posted by Steve

The Mighty Tale of Hanuman

April 17, 2014
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Earlier this year, a co-worker of mine traveled to India on more of a sight-seeing and arts-heavy trip than what many of us yogis/Ashtangis tend to make.

She knows, a little, that I do yoga — but pretty much in the sense that, let’s say, your aunt or grandfather knows you do yoga: in Tim Miller’s words, as some kind of exotic stretching.

She doesn’t have any idea, really, of what our Yatra was (or will be about).

When she returned, she brought me a few things, including a book. When I picked it up, I was pretty shocked. The title: The Mighty Tale of Hanuman.

I paused, trying to figure out if this was on purpose and how she knew.

“Did you know,” I asked, “that through my yoga I have a relationship with Hanuman? He’s like a role model, of sorts.” (How do you actually explain it?)

On the bridge to Lanka, via mightytaleofhanuman.com

“No,” she answered, still not fully getting what I was getting at, even as I showed her the Hanuman murti in my office and reminded her I have a Hanuman hanging in my car.

It seems Hanuman had just decided it was time to remind me he’s here and watching.

This was so unexpected — a book on Ganesh maybe I would have seen coming — that I gave the book an even deeper look that I would have otherwise. After all, clearly Hanuman wanted me to see this story of his life.

It’s, in a word, wonderful. A sensitive re-telling of this most wonderful epic, it combines the familiar story with 18th century Ramayana paintings from the collection of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur, India. It is modern, and multimedia, but from a time when there was no such thing. (Because, of course, so many things were multimedia.)

It transcends time, much like Hanuman himself as a Chiranjivi, an immortal being.

I especially was struck by how the paintings, the images, interact with words of the story. You are able to follow different scenes in the paintings, moving back and forth within the images. In some ways, the direction of the narrative is up to you.

As I read through the book, I realized there was quite a back story, and so I looked further. It turns out, profits from the book go to the The Veerni Project, which supports girls literacy. Here’s the author’s rationale for the book:

Our aim is to introduce children to Indian art through a book that uses the narrative in art in an interactive and interesting way. The appreciation of Indian paintings is not part of most school curriculums and so even though most Indian children are familiar with the basic storyline of the Ramayana, very few have seen the beautiful paintings that were commissioned by the Hindu and Mughal royal courts to illustrate the epic. 

For children who are unfamiliar with the story, the combination of narrative and original illustrations will provide an exciting entry point into the world of Indian mythology.

Clearly, I realized, something special is going on here. And so, on the off chance it might result in a response, I emailed the authors, Mamta Dalal Mangaldas and Saker Mistri. (Their bios at the site.)

And wouldn’t you know it, they got back to me. And they were nice enough to agree to answer a few questions. Here is my email Q&A with Mamta:

1. What was the inspiration for the book project?

The inspiration really came from these magical 18th century paintings that we saw at the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. They are a set of 91 paintings which tell the story of the Ramayana. Even though this epic has been told and retold a thousand times, we felt that a children’s book which celebrated this much loved tale with the paintings alongside was needed.

Our book aims to introduce museum quality art to children through the engaging medium of story. This is because we believe that children who are the guardians of our culture should be exposed to the rich tradition of Indian art. Children will only protect what they love and think is precious. But, this does not happen because they are not taught about their heritage either through their school curriculum or through books or any other medium. The result of this is that children are bored with the museum experience.  The only way to counteract this is to make the objects from museums familiar to children, give them a way of relating to them. Our book – The Mighty Tale of Hanuman – brings 18th century original Rajasthani art from the Ramacharitmanas manuscript, which belongs to the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur, to children in an accessible way.

2. How did you become involved with the Veerni Project?

The Veerni Project empowers and educates girls in Rajasthan which is where the paintings come from. We felt it would be right to give back to the place which had given us so much joy. Veerni does some amazing work to raise the literacy levels of girls in a state that continues to be plagued by female infanticide, child marriage and the lowest women to men ratio in the world.

3. Why do you think it is important to teach children about art and include art in their education?

In this high-speed digital age, where everything happens at the speed of light, I believe that art education is extremely important for children because it helps to “slow down the eyes” and encourage the use of the much ignored left side of the brain. Art education leads to “whole brain” learning and inculcates creativity and imagination – crucial components of success in our competitive world.

4. Why did you choose the tale of Hanuman? Is there something about the “simultaneous narrative” of the paintings you thought would work well in engaging children?

In our book, Hanuman is narrating his favourite story which is the Ramayana, which is also the favourite tale of millions of people around the world and has been for the past 2500 years since it was first written by Sage Valmiki. I think being on the best seller charts for 2500 years is quite a feat! The reason behind this is that the Ramayana has something for everyone and has big lessons for us even in this modern age.

The “simultaneous narration” of the paintings makes them very special and every tiny episode of the tale has been incorporated into the paintings. We wanted children to learn to decode the stories and become detectives and really learn to see.

6. What do you think the Hanuman tale has to teach children?

The Ramayana is one of India’s best-loved mythological tales. Traditionally told, the Ramayana is about the fight of good over evil, and it becomes a didactic story – a story with a moral where we tell children what is right and wrong. In our book, we have decided to focus on the reason this epic remains relevant. It is because it deals with contemporary issues and dilemmas. The Ramayana is not only about the fight of good over evil, it is as much about the shades of grey that we encounter in our daily lives – sometimes it is not clear to us, what is right and what is wrong. But most importantly, the tale is about the extreme difficulties of being good and dealing with consequences of being bad.

7. One thing we noticed that really struck us was telling the tale mostly in first-person, from Hanuman’s point of view. Why did you decide to tell it from his perspective?

Hanuman is a great favourite of children and adults alike. He is strong and loyal. He is kind and intelligent. He has super-powers. We loved him and thought others would love him too.

8. Do you have favorite images from these paintings and a favorite moment in Hanuman’s story?

I loved the images of the clouds in the paintings – they were so evocative and transported me to another time and place. (pages 32/ 33). They are part of my favourite image – “The death of vali”

Via mightytaleofhanuman.com

My favourite moment is a very poignant one – when Ram has mortally injured Ravan because it brought me to my senses. No one is entirely good or bad. We have to choose the right path even though its often very difficult….

Quote from the book:

“Ram looked at the dying Ravan, “For a thousand years, you studied all the holy books and in return for your prayers, you received divine weapons and blessings from the gods. You were the most learned and powerful rakshas ruler but you misused your powers and became proud and cruel. It was my destiny to kill you and protect the world, even though you fought courageously to protect your kingdom.”

“Ravan recognised the truth in Ram’s words and sighed,  “Sometimes we do things that are wrong and turn away from what is good for us, because the right path is often difficult…””

***

The right path is often difficult, which is why we all need role models like Hanuman.

I know Mamta and Saker are working on getting a U.S. publisher, but in the meantime, I’d encourage anyone interested in Hanuman, the Ramayana, Indian art, books or anyone with kids to consider going directly to the source at the Mehrangarh Fort Museum and buy it now. It does do international shipping. And when there is a U.S. edition coming, we’ll let you know.

You also could check out the book’s website.

Posted by Steve