First Yoga Lesson

My first introduction to yoga was 50 years ago. It was not the enlightening experience you might expect, though it was quite revealing.  I came across a Yoga paperback. The guy in the front cover was really good shape. It was difficult for a skinny wimp of a teenager like myself to believe that these static poses could take me part way towards the next Spiderman, but in my adolescent years I was willing to give anything a shot.  

Naively I decide to go all in. What to wear? From the pictures it seems I should be wearing something that looks like a giant diaper. We didn’t have any white towels at home, so I took our largest bath towel, it was blue with a large kingfisher print. I fashioned something close to the pictures in the book. Actually it looks more like I have strapped a flock of unwilling seabirds loosely around my middle.  It doesn’t feel particularly secure either but no problem, I have the house to myself.

Stripped down to the bare essentials I prepare for my first pose

“It is possible to enter Vīrabhadrāsana using vinyasas starting from either Adho Mukha Śvānāsana or from Tāḍāsana.”

Wait what?  I thumb through to the index to look up 4 words in sanskrit to figure out where I am going to start. Got it  Tāḍāsana  means stand up.  It sounds simple enough but check out Wikipedia for 3-4 pages on how yogis stand up at the front of their mat. It’s not as straightforward as it sounds.

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Continuing from the book with Warrior I:

  1. The arms are stretched up, palm touching.

  2. Inhaling spread the legs sideways by jumping or stepping, creating a gap of ⅔ body height.

⅔ of body height.  Is that important? What is ⅔ of 5ft 8 inches?  Clutching the paperback in my teeth I reach for my slide rule and tape measure.

  1. Exhaling turn the trunk facing to the left while rotating the left foot 90° so it faces forward and the right foot so it points slightly to the right.

The left foot has to be precisely 90°, “where is my set square”.  The right foot slightly right? What does that mean?  15°, 25°  I have a protractor. I could use that if the instructions were clearer. Why were the instruction so precise for the left foot and all sloppy for the right?

  1. Bend the left knee till the thigh is parallel to the floor, avoid extending the bent knee past the ankle and keeping the other leg straight.

Balancing Dad’s spirit level on my left thigh I start to feel warrior one. But I am still not clear on the other leg, should it be straight or not. There are two ways to read instruction 4.

There are 10 more instruction to complete the pose and the clue is buried in them “the knee is locked.”

Side note never lock your knee out in any pose, whatever the book says.

Continuing – Looking up seems important too but how then to read the rest of the instructions.  I build a simple device. In the days before selfie sticks, it’s a spatula and some well positioned duck tape. Now I can have the book in front of me by holding the spatula between my teeth. I resume my warrior I reading the further instructions while in the pose. As I reach up with my hands my kingfisher diaper feels like it is trying to escape. One false move and I am in trouble, but I persevere with the pose.  We have net curtains at the windows and everyone is out.

Semi-naked in the middle of our lounge , spirit level balanced on one thigh, slide rule in hand and tape measure extended across the floor and spatula clutched between my teeth I look up and pause for “1 to 4 breaths.” Well is it 1 or is it 4 there is a big difference.  I take a deep breath anticipating enlightenment.

The door bursts open, Mum and Dad rush in. They are back unexpectedly early as mum is not feeling well. I freeze and look over in horror. With a gentle thunk the kingfishers successfully make their bid for freedom.

I did not practice yoga for a few years after that.

The book is, I suspect, long gone and until google offers “search from images in your mind” I doubt I can find it as I have no idea of the title or author.  

Today of course there are plenty of online resources to explain the poses. The instructions I used above were actually from Wikipedia. The collective wisdom of the crowd came up with that version of Warrior I.

There are lots of approaches out there.   For the doctoral candidate with a minor in geometry how about the Yoga Journal style

“Raise your arms perpendicular to the floor (and parallel to each other), and reach actively through the little-finger sides of the hands toward the ceiling. Firm your scapulas against your back and draw them down toward the coccyx”  – Yoga Journal.com

My first lesson was simple – Learning Yoga from a book is hard, very hard. Actually I think it’s impossible.

Like so many other things you can’t learn Yoga by reading about it.  There are too many small adjustments and correction that just make written descriptions impossible to remember, follow or appreciate. Most of these refinements make no sense until you have been working on the basics of the pose for a while anyway. Instructions talk of 90 degree angles with an authority that would humble a guru.  Only advanced yogis get to 90 degrees in most poses.  The rest of us are somewhere on the way towards 45 degrees and happy right there. In complete contradiction other instructions are sloppy, “turn your back foot in slightly” . Why does one foot matter and not the other? What is important?  And that fundamental question “Am I doing it right?”  only an instructor can tell you these things because everyone is different and every pose is unique to them.

The knowledge passed down for 5,000 years has stood the test of time. Learn from an instructor, one that you like and resonate with, and use books for reference. Nothing has changed in 5,000 years though the western world is trying hard to do that with science and marketing.  Not everything new is an improvement.  That said I do appreciate 21st century yoga clothing. After my first experience with Yoga, to this day,  I have not taken as much as my shirt off in a yoga class.

– Clive Beavis, Vinyasa Yoga Instructor

Asana of the Week: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)

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Birgit Reimer, Iyengar Yoga Instructor demonstrates Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II) at Nandi Yoga.

Benefits of Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II): 

  • Tones the leg muscles
  • Increases flexibility of back and leg
  • Contracts the abdominal organs

 

There are couple of ways to deepen this asana: 1) decreasing the lateral distance between the feet, and 2) widening/ increasing the length of the stride. If you feel any discomfort in sensation, be mindful of your body and take modification in Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II).

 

Modification:

A simple solution is externally rotating the shoulders so the palms face up and decreasing length of the stride in this asana. You will alleviate tension and find access to more muscle strength in the upper body, less strain on the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

A Seed Grows

The most wonderful thing about life is when you love what you do it grows; and so did the Nandi community over the last 4 years. All the students who come to my two classes, workshops and the monthly pranayama classes are fascinated by the outcomes of the study of the self during the asana or pranayama practices. They love as I do the intricacies and minutest movements within and their curiosity to learn is humbling to me.

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(Photo from left to right: Michelle Hyman, Ben Thomas, Birgit Reimer, Wendy Klein)

My mentor, Senior Iyengar yoga teacher Ben Thomas, always encouraged me to plant good seeds into the hearts of the students and, with the Nandi students, I see a beautiful field of flowers blossoming and growing every year.

Birgit Reimer, an Iyengar Yoga Instructor, has been teaching for more than 20 years and travels every other year to the Ramamani Iyengar Institute, to study with the Iyengar family.  www.yoga-is-all.com

 

A Light on Yoga – How Iyengar Illuminated My Yoga Journey

 

I started my yoga journey by guiding myself through the weekly sequences in Iyengar’s Light on Yoga.  In his preface, Mr. Iyengar emphasizes the importance of learning with a teacher but I’d ignored that and brashly pushed forward on my own.  One day in about “Week 12,” I leaned over to pick up a tray and couldn’t straighten my back.  Hobbling to the phone, I called the local Iyengar studio and signed up for my first class.      

During that first class at the Julie Lawrence Yoga Center in Portland Oregon, two things became crystal clear: first, I’d practice yoga for the rest of my life, and second, I wanted to be a teacher.

“Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees,” B.K.S. Iyengar, 1918-2014.

Afterwards, as I made the 4.5 mile walk back to the ashram where I was living at the time, I mentally replayed everything that we’d done in the class:  The teacher’s insistent recipe for sitting with an erect spine; the introductory prayers we chanted aloud; the fastidious anatomical cueing of each asana (seat); the logic of the sequence; the thrill of being upside down; and the conscious relaxation.  I practiced what we did everyday until the next class and returned eagerly with questions.  A practice I’d repeat with every teacher I’d come to study with.   That first class was a lens that focused my reason for being on the planet.  For me, Yoga weds passion with career and illuminates a path to and through old-age/death.    

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Now, 20 years later, here I am.  Still practicing, still teaching.  It gets better every day.    

– Louis Jackson, Nandi Yoga Instructor

 

The Precision and Joy of Iyengar Yoga

I was drawn to this practice because of its precision, timing and sequencing, the foundations of Iyengar Yoga, which help guide one towards freedom of mind and a compassionate and spiritual life.  The intricacies and minute teachings always pull the students and me into the energy of this particular way. Whether we practice asanas, pranayama, study the sutras of Patanjali, chant and/or meditate together, the connection to the lineage of teachers is truly present.

“It is through the alignment of the body that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence,”  B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life.

The disciplines of continuation, perseverance, repetitions of the practice and the concepts of involution for evolution back to involution, the self-study and just simply the everyday life Practice of the Yoga Sutras on and off the mat absorbs me and keeps me going on this path.

 

Birgit Reimer, an Iyengar Yoga Instructor, has been teaching for more than 20 years and travels every other year to the Ramamani Iyengar Institute, to study with the Iyengar family.  www.yoga-is-all.com

 

Asanas of the Week: Prenatal Yoga

We honor all mothers on this special day, including those who are having their babies this year! Here are two yoga poses that will keep us coming back to the mat throughout pregnancy, and even thereafter.

Photo Credit: Michelle Hyman, Prenatal Yoga Instructor at Nandi Yoga — San Mateo, California

Nandi Yoga Gift Guide: Everything A Yogi Mom Needs This Year

Mother’s Day is the best time of the year to give gratitude to our moms. This year, Nandi staff hand-pick the most popular, high-quality gifts that many yogi moms will cherish on and off the mat. 

We welcome you to visit Nandi Yoga in-studio to check-out our top 10 gifts: