Beyond Asana Blog
My weekly blog is a forum for contemplative inquiry into the intersection of yoga practice, traditional teachings, and real life.
I sometimes joke with students that a side benefit of practicing with me is that by listening to all the verbal cues I give, they don’t have time to think about their problems. I’m only half kidding.
As a student of alignment-based asana, I was taught by teachers who used lots of words, words that guided me deeper in my practice, words that captured my experience and turned it into learning and growth, and words that gathered the energy of my monkey-mind and focused it inward to grasp ever more subtle aspects of my being.
The role of language - and by extension the intellect - in an embodied practice like asana is fascinating.
Using our intellect in asana is how...
Humankind stands with its feet planted squarely on the earth, as in Tadasana (Mountain Pose), and its head in the sky.
- BKS Iyengar
What does it mean to have your feet planted on the earth and your head in the sky?
For me, it means being practical and responsive to the needs of my daily reality while also staying attuned to the bigger picture.
Consider yoga as a method that unites the mundane and the mystical.
Our practices take us deeper into our embodiment, while also inviting us into an transcendent vision of who we are.
Feet on the ground, head in the sky: The journey of the yogi encapsulated in Tadasana.
How does your yoga empower you to remember...
In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.
― Pico Iyer
I took my first series of yoga classes while working as an executive secretary in a midtown Manhattan office. This was the early ’90s, when we still had old-fashioned tape counters that would measure how much of a cassette tape you’ve played and whose numbers could be set back to a string of zeros by pressing a button.
By the end of the class, I felt as though my tape counter was set back to 0000. My reset...
A few weeks ago, as I sat on my couch reading about the immense scale of the devastation in Turkey and Syria, at one point it almost became too much. My chest constricted and my jaw tightened. I sensed myself viscerally wanting to pull my attention away from looking at the photos and reading the accounts of the unfathomable loss and horrific tragedies unfolding there. It felt as if a dark, heavy cloud of sadness was sitting in my chest.
I didn’t want to turn away, though. I wanted to stay with the news and bear witness to the suffering unfolding for my fellow humans.
I turned to my breath. I imagined that with each inhalation I was becoming fully conscious of the pain and...
I recently had the great pleasure of sitting down with Buddhist teacher and Mindfulness Yoga pioneer Frank Jude Boccio for a rich conversation about the intersection of Buddhist and Yogic thought.
He shared with me an experience from early in his yoga practice that I think many of us can relate to. When he began taking yoga classes back in the mid-1970’s (which, coincidentally, were at The World Yoga Center, the very same studio where I got started in yoga about 20 years later!), he would leave the studio feeling fantastic.
The peace of mind he experienced at the end of class didn’t last, though, not even for the length of his subway ride...
The other day at the gym, as I was cooling down after my workout, I glanced over at these posters hanging on the wall. It struck me, again, how many of the stretches are similar - in some cases identical - to positions that I practice and teach as yoga.
It got me thinking, as I've done many times over the years, about the difference between stretching and yoga. What distinguishes yoga from positions practiced solely as physical exercises?
I think it’s more than attention to breath and mindful awareness.
Physical positions become yoga when they’re informed by an understanding of the human being as an integrated whole as...
Alignment is a word we hear often in the yoga world. It’s a juicy topic. But it is also a topic that can easily be confusing and misunderstood. This is because alignment in yoga can refer to many related, yet different concepts. So, it has become one of these big, vague terms when it comes to how we instruct and practice asana.
Many of the discussions about alignment in yoga I’ve heard seem to focus only on alignment as it relates to functional movement and biomechanics. Don’t get me wrong, those are essential aspects of alignment. Yet, what’s missing for me in these conversations is any mention of what is beyond our physicality, as if...
I’ve always considered the foundation of a pose - the part of the body that’s in contact with the floor - to be significant in more ways than one.
As the first outward expression of a pose, it’s an opportunity to refresh the presence and meaning we wish to bring to our practice.
Yoga teachers often compare the foundation of a pose to that of a building: both are the underlying base upon which a structure is constructed.
Like in a building, the foundation of a pose needs to be balanced and steady to provide the optimal support to everything above it.
For example, the way you place your hands in Downward-facing Dog Pose will impact the arms, shoulders, neck, and upper...
May I not be held back by what I think I know.
This was a little prayer I used to recite at the beginning of my practice. It was my way of stepping into a beginner’s mind.
Shoshin, or beginner’s mind, is a concept from the Zen Buddhist tradition that refers to an attitude of openness and a lack of preconceptions. In the yoga tradition, humility, eagerness, and patience are some of the many yogic virtues that are fostered when we approach a subject as if we were beginners.
Beginner’s mind is important in yoga because it engages our curiosity, clears the decks of our expectations, and brings us into the present to experience ourselves and our practice as new....
No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man
- Heraclitus, Greek philosopher
I doubt Heraclitus ever had to deal with the problem of getting bored in yoga, but he certainly had some brilliant insight into how to keep a practice fresh and interesting.
On the one hand, the postures we practice might seem to be the same. The forms we regularly practice become familiar to us over time. This repetition and familiarity are helpful because it allows us to build a relationship with them. Like a good friend, we can rely on our practice to be there to support us.
On the other hand, no matter how many thousands of...