Saturday, August 26, 2017

Taking on Iyengar on Inversion

I love yoga.

If you know me, and this blog, you know that I am a geeky and scholarly yoga practitioner and a teacher for nearly two decades now. You also have heard me make fun of modern day yoga teachers hustling for popularity and trying to outdo each other. You've heard me criticise the yoga industry. But you've never heard me take on the saints of yoga. Here I expose the Lion of Pune for spreading false information and his own misunderstandings and inaccuracies and in the process, I hope to teach everyone the lesson of not believing everything being said in a yoga class.

I recently ran into a video which had 2.5K shares on Facebook showing Iyengar in a demonstration and a lecture on inversions. The video was put out by Iyengar Yoga Australia. If you want to watch the video, click HERE.

First, Iyengar makes the claim that "early yogis" came up with inversions, and shortly after he clarifies that "early" is "when civilization began." Ok, but which civilization are we talking about? If we are talking about the Indus River Valley Civilization, a Bronze age civilization, we have no evidence of them doing yoga. If we are talking about Vedic civilization, then we have evidence of people doing yoga, however, by yoga, they meant meditation and strange ascetic practices and rituals and no postures. In the 15th century, Hatha Yoga Predipika describes the first inversion posture - the Viparita Karani - a half shoulder stand. However, Iyengar is talking about headstand in the beginning of this video.

He then proceeds to explain about the "hypothalamus" at the base of the brain, which according to him regulates the perception of hot and cold and is the "seat of the emotional center." Yes to the first part. No to the second part. It's the amygdala and the hippocampus which control emotions. And the hypothalamus controls autonomic nervous system responses and endocrine function through the pituitary gland, meaning hormone release and regulation.  I am not a neuroscientist but even I know that.

Iyengar also makes the claim that Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, has "dealt with this pose," meaning headstand, but Patanjali never makes such claims. He never discusses what "asana" to be considered in the sutras. Patanjali states the qualities of asana such as "ease" and "steadiness" but never what the actual asanas are.

This is a good segway for Iyengar to go into the "three nervous systems of the body" which he names as the "peripheral nervous system, the autonomous nervous system, and the central nervous system."
Sounds good, but not exactly accurate. The peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system are the two main nervous systems. The "autonomous" nervous system is actually the "autonomic" nervous system which is one-half of the peripheral nervous system. The PNS consists of the autonomic and the somatic nervous systems. All this is in relation to structure. As far as function goes, the PNS can function in two modes - sympathetic and parasympathetic response having to do with either "fight or flight" or "rest and digest" responses. It seems to me that Iyengar is mixing things up pretty liberally and making it sound very convincing.

Why? Because it seems to fit neatly into the energetic system of the body described in the Hatha Yoga Predipika, namely ida nadi, pingala nadi, and the sushumna nadi. But while the yogis of yore were talking about energy channels, Iyengar is talking about anatomical parts. We are yet to discover the exact correlation of the energy channels to anatomical parts. According to him, pingala, the solar channel, connected to/passing through the "solar plexus" is synonymous with the sympathetic nervous system. And while it is true that "at the pit of the stomach," aka. the solar plexus is a juncture of nerves and ganglia which are part of the sympathetic nervous system response, putting us in fight or flight, what follows as an explanation of how going upside down "nullifies" the effect of what seems to be a description of daily stress by drawing on the "lunar" or the parasympathetic NS energy, is pure mish-mash. In fact, we've seen that there is a huge difference in the kinds of inversion we do as to the types of effects we get. We have modern day science to give us these details.

A headstand is taxing on the PNS, although it is liberating for the functioning of the heart as it does indeed help with the venous return of blood to the heart. From a neurological perspective, the increase in blood pressure to the brain, doubling, and the inverted perspective is actually activating the fight and flight response in the body. This is the reason inversions should be approached carefully, and with patience. A headstand should be held in small increments and as tolerance builds over time, one can increase the duration.

My favorite line is "the central nervous system is a very difficult system to handle." Well, the CNS is just the brain, spinal cord, and the nerves directly exiting the spinal cord. We actually do not "handle it" despite his claim that it needs "proper judgment" to function, to be handled properly... I get lost here. The CNS is an information highway. The brain, where judgment comes from is the very center of the CNS.

The mish-mash doesn't end here. He calls the "autonomous" nervous system, which is actually the "autonomic" nervous system, "semi-voluntary." There is nothing "semi-voluntary" about regulating the function of smooth muscle around your organs, for example. Yes, you can control or not control your breath. You can directly, or indirectly affect the beating of your heart. But most of what the autnomic NS does, is totally out of one's control, because most of it is completelly out of one's awareness or ability to perceive its functions.

Somehow "lunar" supplies the energy while the "solar" is resting, because "lunar" is at the base of the brain.... This makes no sense whatsoever. Even if you look at the whole thing energetically only, the solar and the lunar channels crisscross at multiple points and definitely not at the base of the brain. If you are looking at the whole thing neurologically, the hypothalamus is not at the base of the brain. It's more centrally located.

And what does it mean "the central nervous system also gets to feed?" Because the CNS is constantly "fed" with various stimuli on which the brain makes you respond in one way or another. Saying that "Hatha Yoga Predipika explains very well on the physiological level" the whole gibberish he just delivered is an insult to the folks who have actually read the text. The HYP was written well before we figured out the existence of the CNS and the PNS, and there isn't a single word in there about physiology. What one will find in the HYP is a model of the energetic body and the energetic channels, as understood at the time. Again, we have not been able to correlate the energetics to the anatomy. And definitely not to the degree, or the effect Iyengar is claiming.

Finally, just because we can't see that something has happened to the subjects holding headstands for 5 min, it does not mean that nothing is happening to them. I can't see what is happening in China from my couch in California, but I am pretty sure something is happening in China at this very moment.

Please, folks, whenever in a yoga class, use your critical thinking capacities. Do not believe everything that comes out of the mouths of yoga teachers. Do not do anything you don't feel comfortable doing just because someone makes claims about the benefits of it. Ask questions about some of these claims to see if the teacher actually understands what they are talking about. Charm, charisma, and confidence are not a substitute for knowledge, sound reason, and facts.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A Few Words on Fulfilling Relationships.

The English poet John Donne told us:

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.”

Yet, we act as islanders, entire of our selves. Worse, we often act as if the entire Universe revolves around our island. We also complain that we feel alone, isolated and frustrated with our relationships which don’t go according to our preferences. We rely on medication to keep ourselves up, and beat ourselves down when we find ourselves in the same kind of relationship trouble we swore we will never repeat again.

We know that we cannot live without other humans. We learn from each other about each other and about ourselves. We challenge, inspire, help, support and get in the way of one another all the time. In and through relationships we discover who we are, what we are all about, what we like and dislike, what to do with ourselves.

According to human needs based psychology, we are all after the same things. Universally, across cultures, we all strive to fulfill the same six basic human needs. The only difference is the strategies we develop to do that. These needs are for safety/ security, variety /novelty, significance, love/connection, growth, and contribution. Poor strategies for fulfilling these needs result in poor results, backfire and we often feel worse off than we started out, even if initially we get to enjoy some benefits. A slight complication to the theme is that for each individual one or two of those needs are predominant. There are developmental reasons for that, but suffice it to say that, two people with conflicting primary needs who are unaware of what drives them can easily cause each other more hardship than necessary when in reality they could be helping and complementing each other instead.

Fulfilling relationships are built on understanding each others’ needs and being willing to extend ourselves to the other person for more than just selfish reasons.

It is amazing how the world opens up when we are there for each other and how each one of us can blossom in a wonderful relationship. At the same time, it is equally amazing how too often we are the ones who shut the door on happiness because we are unskillful in fulfilling our own needs and making it someone else’s fault.

Consider all of the things you think are wrong with one or more of your relationships. Where do you assign the blame? Are you accounting for your own part in them? What needs are you trying to satisfy by the way you are acting? Could you do something different? Do you understand what the other person needs? These are but a few questions you can ask yourself to figure things out. If you are interested, you can join me for THIS online 4-Weeks course on Exploring Relationships and Sexuality, from the privacy of your own home.

Wishing all of you fulfilling relationships! You can make it happen.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Act And Let Go

We often hear “surrender,” “be at ease with whatever comes,” “wanting causes suffering,” “let go and just be…” It seems to make sense in a yoga class. But when hear the same being said off the mat, we often have something else to say. We have responsibilities family responsibilities, friends, jobs, clubs, hobbies, dreams, plans, and goals… What does it mean to let go and to be at ease with whatever comes? Is everything really perfect? Just one look at the news and you start doubting. Your dysfunctional, habitual patterns, procrastination, failed attempts at achieving your goals, job losses, divorces, kid troubles, how can you accept yourself as perfect? You keep going to yoga classes and letting go while you are there and you keep your ambitions, frustrations, goals and greed to your self. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna, the great warrior who is no longer sure he should fight, that any action is better than inaction. He also tells him that he has the right to work, but not to the fruits to his work. That selfless service is sure to grant you passage to immortality. Krishna tells Arjuna that the ego-mind uses the senses for self gratification, and those who dwell in the ego-mind find no grace, no contentment, no joy and are subject to the continual cycles of rebirth. So, how do you act without acting? “Established in the Self,” Krishna answers, one is in a state of equanimity, at all times. In equanimity, there is calmness and there is space full of potentiality. When one is established in the Self one is connected with Divinity at all times. Therefore, one is at ease with whatever comes, knowing that impermanence is the name of this game.  Everything will eventually pass.

When in this state the mind does not flicker uncontrollably and franticly in all directions.  Established in the Self you see your situations for what they are and through the calmness of equanimity you also see what needs to be done, what must be done, and how. In essence, the necessary actions reveal themselves because you have allowed the space for that to happen. You will be wiser in your choices and you will be acting with compassion, faith and certitude. You will also not grow attached to anything you do and anything you have.  Instead you will live with gratitude.  Your actions will no longer be for you alone. They will be in service and with purpose.  When acting in line of your dharma (duty) no bad karma can be accumulated, teaches Krishna.  When acting in selfless service all karma is dissolved.  Established in the Self the mind becomes a useful tool, which you can put away when you are done and call upon it when it’s needed. The mind is not a bad thing; it’s just a busy thing that needs taming. As Eckhart Tolle puts it in the Power of Now – you are here to enable the divine purpose of the universe to unfold – that is how important you are….

This sounds amazing and simple! Unless you don’t believe in Divinity or the willingness of the Universe to help you out. And if you are confused as to what actually constitutes your all wise, centered, and Equanimeous Self, what would you surrender to and who can you trust for inner guidance?

In that case, trust yourself. Your own life with its twists and turns has a way of showing you what you need to know. Look at your relationships. Look at past events when you felt hurt, angry, misunderstood, justified to commit random acts of unkindness. Look at how you handle similar situations. Look at the results you get from such handling of similar situations. Ask people close to you for feedback. See a therapist, a life coach, or read a book or two, or a dozen. Educate yourself and study yourself. Examine your life because you’re worth it. Then make the choice to do better. “Action is better than inaction,” said Krishna to Arjuna. And I concur.

And while you are at it, keep your eyes on the prize – better life, better job, better relationships, better fun, and yet, remember that only your actions are within your control. Things can happen regardless of what you do, and how hard you try. You may do better than expected. You may get lucky. You may find something along the way you did not expect and get side tracked. You may do worse, or never reach your destination. But just trying, just learning, just figuring things out, changes you forever.

You can never step in the same river twice, says a Chinese proverb. This includes the river of your life. Every day a new You lives to see the sunset. Rejoice at this opportunity. Make the most of it. Let go of holding on to your old mistake. Let go of holding on to old stories. Make new ones – mistakes and stories. That’s what you are here for. And that’s what being a human means. You’ll never get anything right, even though some people will tell you can or you did. In your own mind, you’ll always know what you could have done better, the short cuts you took, the imperfections. Let go of holding on to the idea of perfection. Being awesome is not the same as being perfect. Being perfect is unattainable. And that’s perfectly OK. Everything is perfectly imperfect at all times, including you.

If everything is totally perfect, as in no need for any changes, improvements, enhancements, modifications, and experimentation beyond what already is, then what would you do with this life of yours? That’s the very perfection of the situation!


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

7 Things To Keep In Mind For a Rewarding Yoga Practice

By now, if you have not heard that yoga is good for you, you must have been living on a different planet for at least a decade. Yes, yoga is great for anyone and everyone. But not all yoga is created equal and not all yoga teachers are equally inspiring, knowledgeable, or qualified. It also matters why you want to practice. Here are 7 things to help you along the way so you can have a rewarding experience.

#1 Pick the style and level that works for you.
An internet search on the styles of yoga can be a good start. A call to the neighborhood yoga studio can help too. But ultimately, trying a few classes and figuring out what your body appreciates most, is the most reliable way to know. Start with the easiest thing you can find. Take an Intro class. Book a private to get evaluated. However you decide to start, please, go slow and be patient with yourself and your body.

#2 Shop around for a yoga teacher.
 Just like with the yoga styles, you can look up teachers’ bios on the websites of each yoga studio and kind of get an idea of who is who. However, all yoga teachers know to write their bios in the most compelling light, so even the most inexperienced ones out there sound good if they have a little writing talent. Also, as a newbie, you may not know any of names each teacher lists as their teachers or be unfamiliar with the yoga language used. Again, the best thing to do is give people a try. Talk to your friends and see who they recommend. Go to a class or two with each teacher that peaks your interest and see for yourself which one you jive with. Your teacher can make you love your practice, or hate it. Your teachers must be patient with you and your body. Hopefully humble. Hopefully not show off what he or she can do. And hopefully, encourage everyone to pay attention to themselves in a kind and mindful way.

#3 Don’t do it if it hurts.
Yes, you are not required to do every single yoga pose offered in a class. You do have a choice. Skip things, rest, just watch if something is unfamiliar. If your body hurts, it’s screaming at you to stop doing whatever you are doing. Yoga is not an Olympic sport and no one gets any medals at the end of a class. So, don’t push the envelope. Get to intimately know your limitations and your body’s quarks and peculiarities and rejoice that they are there. It means that you have something to play with and observe. You have a body. This means you are still alive. That’s good news. We condition this body by repetition mixed with compassion. We also condition this mind with mindfulness mixed with surrender. It all works out at the end. I promise.

#4 Don’t look around the room.
You are not the person on the mat next to yours. Also, you won’t like it if someone is staring at you all the time, even though you may be wearing the coolest Prana pants in the class. Keep your beeswax on your mat and remember:  you got this body, just the way it is, partly from your parents, partly from your attitude, partly from your experience. Therefore, you have a unique combination of body/mind that does not look or perform like any other one. Enjoy your uniqueness. Explore it. Embrace it.

#5 Do connect breath and movement.
This is the essence of the physical practice of yoga. If you are not keeping track of your breath and moving from it, you are totally missing out on what you are there for. Slow down. Breathe. Feel the body and the breath express the postures. This breath can show you where you are tensing, resisting, loosing focus. It will help you stay present. It will keep your mind relaxed and at ease with whatever comes. 

#6 Use your core muscles.
Yes, you have them. They could be in need of some attention, conditioning, and reconnecting to, but they are there. If you are not moving from your core, you are a rootless, wobbly pile of an injury-waiting-to-happen.  If you move from your core, you are elegance and confidence in action, deeply rooted and gracefully flowing…like a pro…even in the gentle class.

#7 Don’t be an armchair yoga practitioner.
Yes, you know those folks who always talk about something and how awesome it is and don’t do it. That’s an armchair yogi/yogini. While you may be exercising your brain imagining the possibilities, you are not getting anything else done. Stop talking and start walking….to your neighborhood yoga studio. I’ll see you on the mat.

You can reach me for a private lesson at 805-909-1401. Or take one of my classes. Text me for a schedule. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Technology changes everything.

Hello, folks.

It appears that I am writing less. That's because instead of writing, I am using video to communicate. You can find my vlogs on my YouTube channel.

Go to:

You can subscribe to the channel and all new videos will be delivered to you. Or you can sign up for my newsletter and once per week or less, you will receive and email from me which usually contains the links to the latest 2 or 3 videos.

As always, thanks for your support.


Sunday, September 04, 2016

Interesting Facts About Yoga Teachers, Yoga Studios, The World of Yoga, etc

Millions of people love yoga these days, making it an Industry with everything an industry needs in order to be an industry - customers, service providers, culture, events, regulations, research, innovation, etc.

Therefore, you may want to know, or at least, find the following facts of interest:

1) Yoga is good for the economy. Yoga practitioners report spending over $16 billion on clothing, equipment, classes, accessories, etc. That's a lot of yoga mats, yoga classes, and yoga pants!

2) One in three Americans has tried yoga on their own, not in a class, at least once... And I can always tell them apart when they show up to class. Either their alignment is totally off, or they recite their injuries just before class apologetically admitting that they were following a video on youtube or on one of the now plentiful on-line yoga on-demand sites. My suggestion to all newbies and folks interested in doing yoga: Find a good teacher and get some basics under your yoga belt before you attempt to play at home without supervision.

3) Half of yoga practitioners say that they eat green, eat sustainably and locally, and volunteer in their communities. Yay for yoga changing the world and building community!

4) 75% of all Americans agree that "yoga is good for you." Now, they have to get on the mat and see what happens. Imagine what this country would look like if 75% of us practiced yoga! I mean, we'd probably be better at picking our politicians.

5) Yoga practitioners are an active bunch. Over 70% of them participate in other forms of exercises, compared to less than 40% among the non-practitioners. That's probably because yoga makes everything else we do much better.

6) 86% of yoga practitioners report having strong mental clarity! That's a whole a lot less people on antidepressants!

7) For every yoga teachers right now, there are two teachers in training. So, give it another year and there will be more yoga teachers than you can shake a stick at :)

8) Only 17% of current yoga teachers have been teaching for more than 10 years. Find them. Follow them. And soak up everything they have to tell you. These are the people that know their stuff!

9) Of all the yoga teachers out there, there are less than 8% who are full-time teachers. Now find the full-time teachers who have been teaching for over 10 years and you'll be on the fast train to planet Awesome Yoga. 37% of the teachers teach less than 5 hours per week (that's 3 - 5 classes), and another 30% teach 5 - 10 hours per week (that's 4 - 10 classes).

10) Only 27% of yoga studio live more than 10 years. Most disappear within the first 5 years. So, make sure you use up all your class passes in a timely manner! Most of them will not tell you when they are closing down and will not make any refunds on unused classes.

How do I know all this? Well, I read the latest research :) You can too. Click HERE to geek out if you wish.

Saturday, July 09, 2016

Yoga, pole dancing, and the strength to be yourself!

For some people, yoga is simply another way to work out and stay active. More power to them.

For others, yoga is an escape from reality, an identifier which differentiates them from the rest of the unenlightened and not so spiritual people. Too bad for them.

Some like the challenge of ever more difficult postures, improved strength and flexibility, agility, mental clarity, mindfulness, or the contribution yoga makes to the rest of their lives and activities...

We all find in yoga what we are looking for!

About a year ago, I started pole dancing - a demanding athletic activity infused with grace and poise, and allowing for infinite self-expression. As I became enamored by the possibilities and watching my body change, one day it dawned on me that I was doing yoga on that pole. And, if it wasn't for yoga, I'd never be on the pole.

I warm up with yoga. I cool down with yoga. I stay connected to my body, protecting it from injuries because of yoga. I have the elegance afforded by flexibility developed in yoga. I have the strength and endurance built by yoga. Every movement, every spin I do, I drop into a peaceful stillness visited many times during my yoga practice.

That is, until I had to perform in front of other people, who were mostly friends and fellow polers...then I lost my shit. Out went the composure. In came the stage fright. But that's another story.

Back to yoga.

I can't think of anything I've done in the last 20 years that has not been enhanced and informed by my  yoga practice. This includes not just physical activities, but life changes, relationships, my world view. It appears that I've found in yoga a source of inner strength, vitality, health, and a mental attitude to keep me on track. I've learned to discern and perceive subtle nuances in my own mind, body, and life, and appreciate them. I've learned to remain present, be assertive, know the difference between "i want" and "i need," and appreciate what life brings my way, even if it does not appear to be enjoyable.

I've learned to be more patient. I've learned to savor the moments and to let them go, to make room for more moments. I've learned that attachment kills the inspiration to be fully embodied in my experiences. I've learned to recognize my own BS and not to take myself seriously, while greatly respecting myself! I've learned to never apologize for who I am, only for my mistakes, and that there's a difference between who I am and what I do. At the same time, I remind myself that my actions speak for who I am.

I've learned that if I can get myself into a situation, I can get myself out of it. Personal responsibility is the key to freedom. No one owes me anything. Life is what I make out of it. My attitude determines my experience of living, working, eating, relating, dreaming, achieving, and the level of enjoyment I experience.

Because, the dusty ol' yoga books say, the mind is both the source of suffering and the source of liberation.

And this is all i have to say about that!

Yoga on!

Just make sure you have a good teacher. No amount of good attitude can fix the damage a bad teacher can inflict on you and your development. And just like the apple does not fall too far from the tree, your life and practice will resemble the life and practice of your yoga teacher. Remember this next time you decide to follow a clueless 20-something year old with nothing but drama in their life and matching lululemon outfits.

Onward and Forward!