2017 International Day of Yoga–21 June

Recognizing Yoga’s universal appeal, in 2014 the United Nations proclaimed June 21st as the International Day of Yoga. The resolution by the largest majority of delegates in the his
tory of the U.N.  
Practitioners from around the world have organized a variety of events to celebrate this day. As students of B.K.S. Iyengar’s teachings, Living Tradition Yoga looks to practice as the best means to celebrate this day as it was (and is) practice that brought what we know as Iyengar Yoga to full fruition. We encourage all our students to make time for practice on Wednesday 21 June (and every day, for that matter) to celebrate and expand the International Day of Yoga. This helps to reminds us all that yoga is, first and foremost, a practical subject.
 
In honor of yoga day, the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (R.I.M.Y.I.) of Pune, India has issued a message, and a sequence to honor this year’s International Yoga Day. (For those who don’t know, the R.I.M.Y.I. was founded by B.K.S. Iyengar in the early 1970s. Mr. Iyengar practiced and taught there until his death in 2014. His children, Geeta and Prashant, both highly gifted yoga teachers in their own right, continue to teach there today.) 
 

Here is the message from R.I.M.Y.I.:  “We have received requests from various associations and teachers for a sequence of practice for the third International Day of Yoga. If our large Iyengar Yoga family across continents would practice the same sequence, then it would be our small tribute to Guruji.

Whenever we talk about ‘Iyengar Yoga,’ we talk about precision and alignment. We insist that if the legs and arms are to be straight in any asana, then the teachers insist on the straightness. “Keep the knees firm and tight. Lock the elbows. Make the legs poker stiff” are the instructions that we often give and hear. It  is this sharpness in the asanas in Light on Yoga that has attracted millions. It is the sharpness in the presentation by Guruji that has inspired generations of yoga sadhakas (practitioners).

Why this insistence on straightness and sharpness? Is it merely for the aesthetic appeal? Guruji has said, “crooked body crooked mind.” When the body is straight and aligned, then the intelligence flows. If there are dents and bends, then the intelligence does not flow. When the intelligence does not flow, there is no awareness. There is stagnation; the asana becomes lifeless. And, if so, how can it be healthy? Guruji has often given us the analogy of the flowing river where there is constant freshness from moment to moment.

So, on this International Day of Yoga, we would be doing the asanas that remind us of this legacy, this tradition of our beloved and revered Guruji.”

 
And here is the sequence: 

Tadasana

Urdhva Hastasana

Urdhva Baddhaguliyasana

Uttanasana

Utthita Trikonasana

Ardha Chandrasana

Virabhadrasana I to Virabhadrasana III

Parsvottanasana

Parivrtta Trikonasana

Prasarita Padotanasana

Sirsasana

Parsva Sirsasana

Upavistha Konasana in Sirsasana or Eka Pada Sirsasana

Adho Mukha Svanasana 

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

Chaturanga Dandasana

Dandasana

Navasana

Ardha Navasana

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana

Supta Padangusthasana

Parsva Supta Padanguhthasana

Parivrtta Supta Padangusthasana

Upavistha Konasana

Parsva Upavistha Konasana

Sarvangasana

Eka Pada Sarvangasana

Halasana

Supta Konasana

Parsva Halasana

Paschimottanasana

Savasana

Viloma 1 and 2 Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama

Savasana

For those who would like to print or share the sequence online, here is a link:https://vr2.verticalresponse.com/emails/18691697739115?sk=akYMB2JgRjBLWd0xRAO4F5AtIH9EkkEMkhgsmGIn3JGk=/aHR0cDovL3ZyMi52ZXJ0aWNhbHJlc3BvbnNlLmNvbS9lbWFpbHMvMTg2OTE2OTc3MzkxMTU=/2ZnXvwGLcSRSmeX9vjupQw==

Remember Why?

A conventional wisdom seems to exist, in writings and teachings related to human performance that the “why” behind what we do is equally, if not more important than the “what.” Our so called “why” is touted as having tremendous motivational power and contains within it the needed fuel to propel us beyond the obstacles that might normally stop us from achieving a goal. In yoga, also, the power of intention is seen as decisive in determining the fruits of our actions. So in honor of memorial day 2017, here are some things to remember for yoga practitioners of all types to inspire dedicated and ardent practice (“they keys to the yogic kingdom.”) This list is by no means exhaustive but we hope it is inspiring and, perhaps, even entertaining.

  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga fosters a willingness to strive and a familiarity with change
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga lowers resistance to change
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga makes one’s blood healthy via circulation, oxygenation, and secretion
  • Love and joy fill the empty spaces where pain was
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga makes you humble
  • Humble people are nicer (and nicer to be around)
  • It takes courage to be humble
  • If you can bend your legs and your butt is soft, your back hurts less
  • Good breathing reduces anxiety and inner chaos
  • If you can concentrate well, you can make your life more the way you want it
  • If you are willing to work at it, you can make your life more the way you want it
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga makes you less reliant on substances to withstand life
  • First: gain the power to withstand
  • Second: Go from withstanding to understanding
  • Third: Go from understanding to OUTSTANDING
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga can help just about every part of the body
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga can organize the mind
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga can connect you more deeply to life’s spiritual dimension
  • Practicing Iyengar Yoga can make feel better . . . forever.

Do Nothing to Succeed.

Don’t just do something, sit there! —Sylvia Boorstein

This seems like an important statement. Within the last five years, according to research done by the Harvard Business Review, in the American culture, busyness and hyper-activity have come to be associated more closely with success, than leisure. Now, instead of hard work being done so as to attain the promise of leisure, hard work is more and more being championed for its own sake. More and more, busyness and multi-tasking are seen, in and of themselves, as symbols of a successful, well-lived life. 

Both anecdotal and scientific evidence, however, suggest that the opposite is true. Personally, I am struck by the number of people that respond with some variation of, “I’m so busy!” when I ask, “How are you?” To be completely honest and vulnerable here, I myself am surprised how often those words come out of my mouth in response to the same question. In fact, I have to admit that I will often say this with a hint of pride or reassurance, as though my “busyness” somehow validates my existence and lends a certain credence to my daily actions. It seems to me that being “busy,” now supersedes being skillful in making choices about how to spend one’s time. The question that remains, however, is what are we busy doing?

According to a 2015 “American Time Use Survey,” conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend more time working than any other activity in their lives (including sleep). Additionally, U.S. citizens work longer hours than their counterparts in other large economies. In fact, according to an article published by bloomberg.com, Americans work nearly 25% more than their European counterparts. 

So what else is keeping us busy? Well, that same “Time Use Survey,” also found that Amercians spend from two to almost five hours per day watching television (in some cases this amounts to more than twenty times the amount of time spent reading or exercising). Interestingly enough, time spent on “Computer Use for Leisure” generally exceeded that of time spent reading or exercising as well. To see the study results for yourself, please click here: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t11.htm

“So,” you might be asking, “we’re busy. What’s the big deal?” Well, that’s the point of this article. In Iyengar Yoga, a there is a dimension of the practice dedicated to slowing down—stopping, actually—and holding still. Mr. Iyengar himself virtually single-handedly developed a whole category of postures known as Restorative asanas. These postures are now taught far and wide by Iyengar and non-Iyengar Yoga teachers worldwide, using many (if not all) of the props Iyengar invented to aid the practice of these postures (a fact that, sadly, is often overlooked or unacknowledged by the teachers themselves). Practitioners of Restorative yoga postures will find themselves holding certain asanas, quietly and, ideally, in profound and alert stillness for five, ten, even twenty minutes or longer. This is one category of postures where the old adage, “Less is more,” holds true. 

One has to note here that the practice of pranayama, or meditative breath work, requires a similar, if not deeper cultivation of alert stillness. Every single technique of the more than sixty techniques taught in B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Pranayama is performed in a sitting or lying (i.e. still) position, with the eyes closed. Mr. Iyengar himself suggests the practice of Pranayama builds the bridge between the “outer” and “inner” practices of yoga. It makes sense, then, at this point, to examine these eight limbs (known in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as Ashtanga Yoga) in light of this concept of alert stillness and dynamic silence, as it is the thesis of this article that these qualities provide a much needed antidote to the stress related disorders that many in our society finds themselves gripped by. What’s more, I assert the capacity to achieve a state of alert stillness is, contrary to what the mainstream message appears to be, the key to success. 

In surveying the practice of Ashtanga (or eight-limbed) Yoga, delineated in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, one finds several dimensions (or limbs) that appear to have alert stillness as a pre-requisite for their fruition. In fact, all the “limbs” of Ashtanga Yoga require a certain degree of stillness or steadiness. Even the yamas, the ethical guidelines relating to our external behavior in relation to others and our environment, reflect a need to keep one’s reactivity and agitation in check and to act out reflectively and thoughtfully. Said another way, practicing the yamas requires us to slow down and think. Similarly, surveying the “last” four limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (fully half the practice) one cannot help but be struck by the manner in which they run counter to busyness. There is certainly no room for multi-tasking, or rushing in the realms of Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (concentration and focusing the awareness), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (superconscious absorption into the object of focus). Indeed, yoga, though it demands effort, can provide a strong counterpoint to busyness and therefore essential healing of the aforementioned “disorders” associated with high levels of stress, the apparent byproduct of excessive busyness.

So, what are these disorders? They seem almost too obvious to merit mentioning. However, having recently heard that the amount of information the average human “produces” in a day has increased by over 200% in just over 25 years [See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/8316534/Welcome-to-the-information-age-174-newspapers-a-day.html], they might bear repeating. So one potential disorder could be information overload and the hindered thinking that results from channels clogged with information. Other physical symptoms include insomnia, digestive disorders, and hypertension (all of which can themselves give rise to a whole host of diseases, both mental and physical). Additionally, depression and anxiety disorders have also been found to be caused by the stress of face-paced, over scheduled lifestyles.

What I found most interesting was a study conducted by Brian Gunia of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Brian is a social psychologist with a doctorate in management, who studies behavior in the workplace. His research has shown that a lack of sleep (one of the primary symptoms of an excessively busy lifestyle) makes people less morally aware and ethical. “When people lack sleep, they have a lower moral awareness,” Gunia says [See http://www.johnshopkinshealthreview.com/issues/spring-summer-2016/articles/the-cult-of-busy]. This brings us back to the idea that, to practice the yamas—ahimsa or non-violence, satya or truthfulness, asteya or non-stealing, brahmacharya or the restraint of one’s lustfulness, and aparigraha or non-greed—which comprise the first limb of yoga, one must have the ability to settle oneself. At a time when there appears to be so much contention regarding people’s character, political views, behavioral practices, and value systems, the need for clear and life-affirming ethical practices seems urgent.

And so, we return to the subject of this article. To be more precise, we return to the quote at the beginning of this article: For your own well being, for the sake of the children who, like my six year-old son, really just seem to long for undivided attention and presence, for the sake of the planet that groans from supplying our endless compulsion to do more, be more, have more (in a past article I have mentioned a study asserting that if everyone on the planet consumed resources at the same pace as the so-called “Western Civilized” countries, we would need four planets), for the sake of the spirit within us that beckons us to “be still and know:” please, please, don’t just do something. Sit there.

 

Living Tradition Yoga is committed to supporting our students to take the revolutionary action of reclaiming the experience of stillness, ease, and sense of sufficiency. Therefore we are excited to present:

Creating a Space for Grace: A Restorative Yoga and Pranayama Workshop

Saturday 25 February and Saturday 25 March 2017

4:00 – 6:00 p.m.

For more information, please visit http://livingtraditionyoga.com/special-events/

Getting to Heaven Before You Die

Another year is upon us. Or is it behind us? Or ahead? One thing is for sure: according to my calendar, the 366 days of Leap Year, 2016 have passed. Personally, I am a bit shocked by how fast the year has gone, even with the extra day thrown in. Most of the people I talk with agree that it went by quickly. Many (often those older than I) sagaciously nod their heads and them emphatically inform me that, the older I get, the faster the years will pass. So, as I reel from the speed with which 2016 has evaporated, I have been considering the following: 

     If we suppose that our life will span 80 years, that means our life will last 29,220 days. So, even if you were just born in 2016, you now are under 29,000 days. I’ll be honest, yesterday is the first time I actually stopped to do the math. I have to admit I was shocked that it was only tens of thousands of days. I thought a human life was hundreds of thousands, at least. I suspect I am not alone in this, which explains the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon of television reruns.

     Not that I wish to be grim, but I do wish that everyone, this holiday season, in addition to feeling an abundance of cheer, will feel the slight sense of constriction that that number—29,200—brings. This year I turned 43. That means I have roughly 13,515 days left (I didn’t figure out the number of leap years), if I make it to 80. That makes the sense of tightness even more acute. Of course, as Prashant Iyengar quips, I am practicing “I-younger” yoga so maybe I’ll make it to 100. Although I’d really only want to be that old under certain, very specific conditions. But we all know: there are no guarantees.

     So even if I make it to 100, that’s still only 20,819 days remaining. Now why, you may ask, all this focus on the (fleeting) number of days we have/we have left as human beings? Well, first, it is said in yoga that the affliction abhinivesha, or the instinctive fear of death is persistent. Actually, all the afflictions: avidya (spiritual ignorance), asmita (egotism or pride), raga (attachment or craving), dvesha (aversion) are persistent. Abhinivesha however, appears to be unique among the afflictions. B. K. S.  Iyengar, in his translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states, “Self-preservation or attachment to life is the subtlest of all afflictions. It is found even in wise men.” He goes on to say that, “If even a highly educated, scholarly person cannot easily remain unattached to life, it is not difficult to gauge the feelings of an average individual.” 

     Secondly, though I find the turning of the year to be a bit arbitrary, it is a time when, collectively, we are watching something come to an end and something else begin. It is also a time when we are turning from the darkening half to the lightening half of the year. Just as in yoga, the transitions, the movements are important moments for attentive, reflective awareness and action. For those of us who practice regularly, we experience first-hand countless transitions. We literally embody the fact that our physical form is constantly and endlessly changing, and it doesn’t take holding a posture for too long to have a clear glimpse of the mind’s mercurial nature. This automatically seems to beg the question: If this body and mind are so inconstant and in such a state of flux, what will become of them? A look into the human condition will show there are virtually limitless possibilities, some clearly more desirable than others. But again, there seem to be no guarantees. 

     The fact that there seem to be no guarantees about how we will change leads us to ask another important question: Is there anything I can do to have the changes that are bound to occur be agreeable? This is a key question. To ask it, first and foremost takes courage, and to earnestly seek an affirmative answer, I believe leads to the most extraordinary experience a human being can have. It is a question worth loving, as Rainer Maria Rilke admonishes in his “Letters to a Young Poet.” It is a question worth living in for decades—for however many thousand (or hundred, or tens, or single) days we may have left. This is the question, I believe, that any sincere practitioner of yoga must ask if they seek true alignment. This is the question, I believe, that, if asked, would give rise to the teachings of yoga, in the absence of any existing teachers or texts on the subject. In other words, I believe the whole science of yoga has arisen out of an attempt to forge an affirmative answer to the question, “Is there anything I can do to have the inevitable changes I will experience as a human being be agreeable?” After all, is this not what we seek, an agreeable change of conditions; an agreeable change in our experience of life? Is this not why an estimated 80 – 95% of Americans (and perhaps the world) require some kind of chemical support for their experience in the form of (legal or illegal) drugs or substances? Is this not why we as a species are consuming natural resources at such a rate that we need five planets’ worth of resources to sustain us? Is this not why we have sought out the practice of yoga?

     There is so much more to say, but days go by quickly these days . . . I will end with a call to action and an invitation. First the call to action: B. K. S.  Iyengar acknowledges a longing in us to find our comfort, and the challenges we face in doing it. He also suggests a different approach we might take on our quest to orchestrate more agreeable changes in our lives. He states, 

“As mammals, we are homeostatic. That means we maintain certain constant balances within our bodies, temperature for example, by adapting to change and challenge in the environment. Strength and flexibility allow us to keep an inner balance, but man is trying more and more to dominate the environment rather than control himself. Central heating, air conditioning, cars that we take out to drive three hundred yards, towns that stay lit up all night, and food imported from around the world out of season are all examples of how we try to circumvent our duty to adapt to nature and instead force nature to adapt to us. In the process, we become weak and brittle . . . ”

Can you hear the call to action? It is simple. It is yoga. It is Iyengar Yoga. I declare that now is the time for us to take up our duty and adapt to nature. Now is the time to give it a break from our incessant demands that it adapt to us. Were that the solution,H. O. P. E.  we would be living in paradise, given our ability to cause nature to adapt? I declare that paradise lies in a different direction, the direction we take when we seek to adapt to nature, when we seek an answer to the question, “What can I do create agreeable changes in my life?” The first requirement in seeking such an answer is discover what agreeable changes truly are. For this we must address our afflictions. We must address the avidya, asmita, raga, and dvesha that we face as human beings. If these afflictions govern our perception we have no way on knowing what is truly agreeable—not to use, not to our own egoistic sense of self, but to Life. Human history up to this point confirms that. We have never lived in times where the ego’s desires could be so extensively satisfied. Trouble is, the ego’s desires can never be satisfied. 

     Now for the invitation: This is where yoga comes in. In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is clearly stated that the practice of yoga reduces the afflictions and leads to samadhi, the experience of knowing the absolute reality of life. It is with this knowledge alone that we can successfully answer the question, “What can I do create agreeable changes in my life?” You could say that the whole science of yoga exists as an answer to that very question. It’s guidance is expert and comprehensive. So the invitation is: start somewhere. First, let us ask the question. Or perhaps we need to back up and start with a preliminary question: “What exactly is an agreeable change?” I am confident that, if asked with sincerity and loved wholeheartedly, these questions can and will empower us to fill however many days we have left in a worthwhile way. I am sure that they can guide us to enjoy a “happy life and majestic death,” to quote Mr. Iyengar. I also have a feeling they might just help us find  H. O. P. E.. That’s Heaven On Planet Earth. Aren’t you ready for some of that? I know I am. 

Healthier by the Minute

Most people in our culture lead busy lives. You will rarely meet a person who says, “You know, I have these two or three extra hours every day and I just can’t figure out how to spend them.” At the same time, you will rarely meet a person who doesn’t have numerous “idle moments” peppered into their daily activities. Waiting in line at the bank or grocery store, lingering on hold for tech support or with a service department, watching a commercial on television. Each of us have hidden moments when our activity stops . . . or at least seems to. 

For example, according to a company called All Over Media, a self described “market leader in the ever-changing Out-Of-Home media industry” and provider of Gas Pump Advertising, “The average person stops at a gas station 5-7 times a month . . . While standing at the pump, consumers have 3-5 minutes of refueling time when they are able to view and pay attention to your advertisement.” So, if we do the math, that means the average person spends 15 – 35 minutes per month (that’s 3 – 7 hours per year) standing at the gas pump. 

Now, consumers (that’s us) surely are “able to view and pay attention” to advertisements during these minutes (and hours) at the pump, but I have been thinking there’s surely another way to spend this idle time. When confronted with his student’s struggles to fit yoga practices into their busy schedules, B.K.S. Iyengar is alleged to advise them to “just do one posture.” So, that’s the idea behind Living Tradition Yoga’s “Healthier by the Minute,” campaign. Each idle minute is an opportunity, true, for a business to advertise to you. It is also an opportunity to put your well-being first and add another 3 – 7 hours (at least) of yoga practice to your life this coming year. I say at least because the gas pump is not the only place we have so-called idle time. 

So, here are some quick ideas about how to spend this time:

First, you could do as my friend and colleague, Clayton Winkler–a Certified Financial Planner with the firm Wiklund and Bond in Auburn Hills (pictured here)–and take the posture known as “Urdhva Hastasana” (more affectionately known between us as “Gas Pumping Posture”).

Additionally, if you want to be more discrete, you can simply bring your awareness to the way you are standing, ensuring that your weight is evenly balanced over both feet, your thigh muscles are firm and pulled up, your chest is lifted and your shoulders rolled back; or you could feel the gentle touch of the breath naturally coming in and out of the nostrils; or you could take a full, complete deep breath–starting with a complete exhalation, then a deep full inhalation followed by a deep, complete exhalation (please be sure to do this away from the gasoline fumes, though); or you could simply stand and feel the life–the breath, blood, secretions, sensations, etc–pulsing through you in a state of profound silence and awareness. 

There are many other options to consider (they are vast). But I will end this post with one last suggestion  . . . really more of a prayer, come to think of it. Perhaps your utilization of your idle time to elevate your well-being will be noticed by someone. Perhaps–through your example, through conversation, or even through asking them to take a photo of you that you can then send to us for sharing with our community–your actions might inspire them toward the same; might inspire them to put their well-being first and thus know that ecstatic state for themselves.

Why is it a prayer? Because people in an ecstatic state of well-being bring beautiful experiences into the world. What might it be like to fill up on that the next time you stop at the pump?