Archive for the ‘yoga’ Category

Teachings on teaching

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Nearly all the folks who were on the retreat are yoga teachers. In addition to Angela, one has her own Mysore program, at least two assist at Angela’s studio, four teach led classes in a variety of venues, and another is in a teacher training program. So, part of the discussion during the week focused on cultivating the teaching practice as an extension of your personal practice. While teaching yoga remains in the realm of when-I-abandon-this-ridiculous-academic-career activities, the discussions on teaching were still relevant.

Angela presented two ideas that resonated with me. The first is cultivating a team of mentors who you trust, who can call you on your b.s., who push you to do better, and who contribute different areas of expertise to your teaching practice. While I have had mentors at various stages of my career, I haven’t cultivated those relationships as well as I should have. I have let many of these relationships drift because of my fear of disappointing people that I respect and admire, unconsciously assuming that their criticism will be as harsh as my own. This reminded me to re-establish those connections to help me feel more secure and, therefore, more able to give.

This, then, relates to the second idea: poverty needs versus abundance needs. Poverty needs are, most basically, food, shelter, safety, and relationship. These are basic needs that must be met. When they are not met or — more relevant to the folks on this retreat — when you consciously or unconsciously don’t believe them to be met, you will act in a way to fulfill these needs to the disregard of others. The position of ‘teacher’ can provide opportunities for money/sex/power/etc that may be exploited in response to poverty needs. (thus, leading to yoga scandals!) This is in contrast to abundance needs: intimacy and efficacy. Abundance needs are things you need to feel fulfilled, once your poverty needs are met. These needs are, at least to me, the kind of fulfillment you feel when serving or working closely with others toward a productive goal. So, in my world, mis-assigned poverty needs are evidenced by professors who claim students’ work as their own or take advantage of their position of power to demand favors or special dispensation. And abundance needs are met in effective mentoring relationships and building collaborations on exciting projects. This kind of discussion of mentoring doesn’t really go on in my world, despite the fact that effective mentoring is the core of graduate student training.

For me, I can see how I act out of poverty needs in mentoring relationships when I fear for (or burnish) my own reputation through my students or use my position to demand their approval. That said, this is the part of my work that I find most satisfying because it meets my abundance needs, as well.

Wombat goes to Camp

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

I spent the first week of March at yoga camp. It really was like camp. I was a little nervous to meet everyone — I only “knew” two of the people, who I had met previously in the cybershala. And it turned out to be such a lovely group of people and everyone got along swimmingly. It was a great mix of personalities, each with a warm heart.

It was interesting to be dropped into a new group of people with time to reflect on how you behave in a new group. When I meet new people, I tend to be performative at first and, even in a ‘we’re all here for the yoga’ setting, I have a difficult time leaving my academic identity behind. And some of that is ok– I am nerdy and excited about science and critters and stuff– but some of that comes from the desire for status or approval. It is funny that I try to seek approval that way, since know-it-all-ness (when not from sheer enthusiasm) can be so off-putting. Tim, clearly used to dealing with over-educated people, called me out on this with gentle humor, allowing me to see and abandon that dynamic. In any case, the performative stuff subsided by day 2 or so, and it was fun to hang out, expectation-free.

I stayed with three others in The Big Palapa, an three-walled room of eight mosquito-net draped single beds and two bathrooms, and it did, occasionally, have the feel of a sleep-over. I have lived alone for the past seven years, and I do wonder how that has warped me — it was nice to have company for a week.

There were a few small adventures — kayaking with Jade to a nearby beach to go snorkeling; rock-hopping on the beach, which always makes me feel alive; and surfing at the local point break, resulting in few nice rides (and cut up feet). And there was some fun bird-watching on the beach with Clare, where we saw Snowy Egrets, Whimbrels, lots of diving Brown Pelicans, Black-Necked Stilts, perhaps a Willet, a Golden-Fronted Woodpecker, a Bananaquit, and a large raptor that was not a Crested Caracara (much to my disappointment) but was probably a juvenile Common Blackhawk. But there were also just a lot of leisurely meals (the food was very fresh and tasty) and reading and talking on the beach.

In my every day life, opportunities to connect with new people are few, so that little thrill of meeting someone you click with is a rarity. For me, this was a week suffused with that thrill, and that was both incredibly pleasant and morale boosting.


Wednesday, March 6th, 2013



Practice Notes: Portland

Monday, August 13th, 2012

I have been at a conference all week in Portland and chose my hotel to be close to Yoga Pearl, home of the Portland ashtanga mysore program. It is always interesting when someone new has a look at your practice. (Mine is a little sorry right now, after a month of traveling around in Australia and only practicing a couple times). Anyway, mostly so I don’t forget, here is one change and one observation from practicing in Portland:

1) Turning hands out slightly in chaturanga, upward, and downward dog. I had my middle finger forward, he suggests the first finger forward, or maybe even a little more turned out. This felt good for my shoulders, and demanded a bit more from the “pull-down the scapulae” muscles that I know need to work more. A similar suggestion applies in backbends.

2) My hamstring flexibility exceeds my hip flexor strength: I can passively stretch my leg quite high in the first part of UHP but can’t actively hold my leg above waist level in the last part of UHP. This is the same reason that I was shaking today in urdhva mukha paschimottanasana. I noticed this particular weakness when I returned to practice last week after travel to Australia. Ugh. This on-again off-again practice that I do when i travel makes it likely that I will injure myself because I retain my flexibility more than my strength.

Busted Peacock

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

A little excitement in the yoga room today. My second-to-last pose in second is Mayurasana. I usually hop back to legs-straight and elbows in belly and then try (unsuccessfully) to straighten/strengthen my legs until my toes lift off the ground – today they felt pretty light.  I tried the pose a second time and entered with legs frog-like and off the ground.  Then I tried to extend them.  I think they were close to straight when….


right on my chinny chin chin on the wood floor in front of my mat.

Having done this once before, I expected a bruise. What I didn’t expect was blood.  Gah!  I think it was less  traumatic for me than for everyone else to have me bleeding all over — at least I couldn’t *see* my busted open chin. My teacher asked one of the other practitioners who is an MD to take a look, and she confirmed his initial judgement — I would need a few stitches.   So, with much kindness, they bandaged me up (it stopped bleeding pretty quickly), and I headed over to the ER.  Happily, 8:30 Easter Sunday morning is a slow time in the ER:  I got my four stitches, amused the ER staff with the story, and was home by 10:30.

I guess William Broad is right — yoga sent me to the ER!  Ha!  Although, right now, my tetanus-booster-shot arm is more sore than my chin.

I think I’ll let my chin heal before fanning my tail feathers again.  Might have to skip Kurmasana for a while, too…


Thursday, February 9th, 2012

I seem to be emerging for my hole. After several weeks of company (H was here for a few weeks, and then my folks for a week), I was sad to return to my little burrow by myself, so I dug myself a hole. Sometimes I don’t have enough insight to see the hole as I dig it; instead, I focus on the dirt under my nails. I can dig myself into a hole quickly, as wombats have powerful front legs, which are very effective for burrowing.

I have a few practice notes that are mostly for my future reference. My shoulders have been tweaky since I came back from the holidays. As far as I can tell, it’s not really shoulder injury, but a slight nerve pinch in the spine that causes weakness in the arms (this has happened before…). However, in addition to bed hanging, few things are helping: (i) focusing on rooting the thumb and first finger; (ii) making sure that my hands are far enough apart (the wombat forgets that she has broad shoulders), and (iii) realizing that if I make my legs stronger in chaturanga, it relieves alot of the stress from my upper body.

Somehow, it’s always the same revelation in a slightly different format — my foundation is weak and i keep trying to manhandle the world with my (powerful, burrowing) arms.

I recently started working on mayurasana. This morning, I fell forward and now I have a yoga booboo on my chin. Silly Wombat. I’ll make sure my chin is over my mat until I get the hang of this pose…

Back bending

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Morning Mysore practice this week is led by Govinda Kai. The theme, as least for asana, seems to be back bending. It’s easy for me to feel like my back bending is “good enough” — I reach toes in Kapo on my own, I drop back and stand up without much fuss, I’ve got the nutation of the sacrum figured out. Occasionally my head gets a little dramatic, but good enough, right? So, I often don’t push myself, and CL is pretty gentle with us in back bending. I occasionally get adjusted to heels in Kapotasana. After backbends, I attempt a few handstands and call it good.

So the first two practices this week have been intense. Heels in Kapo A and strong legs in Kapo B. After 3 urdhva danurasa and three drop backs on my own, he assists three tic tocs (a first for me), toes to head in handstand, then three arms-crossed drop backs and a fourth with hands in close to heels and strong legs. I absolutely lose the breath between tic tocs and arms-crossed drop backs. My heart is just racing too fast, and I have to catch my breath. Even as backbends have gotten easier, my breathing is still shallow and the effort strong, so it doesn’t take long for the oxygen supply and demand to get out of whack.

This back bending sequence is pretty standard in some studios (like the first place I practiced Mysore in LA). But here, there are, perhaps, not enough assistants to drop everyone back every day, so CL saves herself for the students who are still learning to drop back on their own. I get a little lazy and self-congratulatory by the end of practice, and I do what is “required” but no more.

Today in practice, I got a bit overheated. By the time I got through Kapo, my face felt like it had a heat aura that wouldn’t dissipate. Perhaps too much effort, perhaps too much dim sum yesterday — I woke up sweating last night, too. (It’s not that unusual for me and it’s a running joke with H– my surface temperature by infrared thermometer is 3-5 degrees hottest than his. Whatever dross there is to burn, I’m burning it.)

Last practice thought– Karandavasana. I can get legs pretty well into lotus and bend a little at the waist. My Pincha isn’t as stable as it should be and my hands tend to come together. In the last couple weeks, Glen and now Govinda has taken me all the way down to the duck and back up a couple times. But it’s all wrong– I know the idea is to get the feel for the whole asana, but the poor teacher is just heaving me back up. I am thinking that I need to find the hollow belly lift that I sometimes find in Utthana Padasana (I had to look that one up, I’m not sure I ever knew its name), and then the last curl at the bottom is the same lift and rounded upper back that I imagine (but dont achieve) in Bakasana. Anyway, we’ll see how this develops. Karandavasana got back-burnered while I was traveling so much.

Pincha and Renunciation

Friday, May 6th, 2011

I woke up this morning to discover some new muscles! I think they are the holding-the-rib-cage-down muscles. They are sore. I think it must be from this week’s introduction of pincha mayurasana. What fun! Wombat likes inversions! And Wombat’s handstands are improving, too.

Last Sunday, I joined a monthly satsang that started at the yoga studio. The theme for the first meeting was attachment, non attachment, and renunciation. Laura and Yoko are leading the satsang, and Laura posts about this month’s theme here ( Having not participated in such a thing before, I was a bit leery (the closest thing I have participated in were “small groups” we used to do at church in HS and college, which can be a bit intense, thus my leeriness). But it is nice to connect with some familiar faces from the studio, whom I smile at each morning but never speak to.
So, considering that one way to discovered just how attached you are is to renounce something, I decided to turn off the audio for this month. Usually, my morning alarm is NPR news, which I listen to until I get to practice. After practice on my way to work, I listen to more NPR news or Talk of the Nation, depending on the time. After work, I do the same thing on the way home, and listen to the news or a podcast of Fresh Air, or some other show while I cook dinner and sometimes through until bed. Sometimes I only turn it off when I am on the phone with H. And while you may think this is the same as having the television on all the time, let me assure you, the Wombat declares haughtily, that is it not! Oh no! This Wombat listens only to educational, informative, or properly intellectual programming! No Housewives for this Wombat! And, the Wombat can do other *productive* things at the same time! Like cook or clean or practice handstands! (Well, the Wombat admits, it might be just like having the tv on all the time, but she lacks a tv, so she wouldn’t know…). The Wombat likes to rationalize her listening.

So, I depart the satsang, quietly deciding to turn off the audio until next month. I get in the car, catch myself turning on the radio, sigh, and turn it back off.

The initial effect was increased anxiety. The radio is one way that I turn off negative thoughts.
Since I can’t turn the radio on, I have to let them pass without distraction. I had a couple bad nights of sleep — waking up in the middle of the night for a couple hours, which is typical when my anxiety increases.

I also find that I don’t really want to cook dinner without some entertainment. That is a bit difficult and has resulted in some cereal-for-dinner nights. I think I am a bit calmer talking to H in the evening, which is probably good because he is 3 hours ahead and usually winding down, while I am still up. But I also feel bored, which is its own kind of anxiety that I have to sit with.

Speaking of sitting, I’m thinking that sitting practice might be a nice idea before bed. But let’s not get too ambitious…

Hopefully, the Wombat won’t tear her fur out before the end of the month.

New Toy

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

H’s visit seems a long time ago now, although it hasn’t even been a month since he departed. After some low days, I seem to have gotten back into work mode. Work mode is busy, not feeling too much, pleasure from task completion, underlying anxiety about many undone tasks, pleasure from social interactions but an underlying slight social awkwardness that comes from feeling disconnected and, therefore, self-conscious. Although I am well-practiced in this state of affairs, it’s not particularly good for me. Everything is a bit more fun with H around, and I feel more at ease. Working on plans for my next trip to CA in May. Maybe I’ll get back in time to use the *new toy* that H got me yesterday! There was a gear swap and look what he found! Such a thoughtful fellow.


I had a good week of practice and, as anticipated, I am now working through Titibasana. My body can make the shapes, but oh! the quads! they burn… CL said that mula bandha was particularly important here or you lose all your energy. I think I must have forgotten it yesterday because I turned into a little puddle after exiting from C.

But tomorrow is Saturday! And I have still uninitiated bike pedals that I got when H was here. So, it is high time for a bike ride.

Small revelations

Friday, April 15th, 2011

In Kapotasana, Glen says, “Once you’re in the pose, stop doing stuff. Just breathe.”
Silly wombat.