• 08/18/2022 12:13 PM | Anonymous

    The novelty of yoga has been worn down to almost nothing by a multi-billion dollar industry that cares little for its tenets, like the crumbling shreds of a shoddily made pvc mat from China. But from out of the ashes of craven images and advertising schemes, a new discipline is emerging.

    Early on, just as the nineties boom happened, I found my way into to a niche that challenged some of the conventional wisdom that became standard in yoga classes. As the years have gone on and the industry has grown, a lot of that conventional wisdom I was originally pushing up against has been morphed by standardized teaching methods and data-driven business models. In the absence of the old rubrics by which yoga was once gauged, alternate criteria for teaching and learning yoga are being adopted.

    Questioning power dynamics, inclusivity, and safety is the new normal.

    Never before have I seen so much “bottom-up” sort of change in yoga. There was a time when protocols all came from the masters atop the disciple pyramid. And while some maintain that this dissolution of the original hierarchy of transmitters is where yoga has gone wrong, the fact remains that the majority of teachers are no longer looking for answers from on high. Credibility is no longer something bestowed upon you but is instead determined by the work you do and the inclinations of the yoga-going consumer.

    Also, decades or more of sticking to unexamined directives and their related injuries have caused many to become disillusioned with the bill of goods we were once sold. Pain tends to be more convincing than the power of myth. And while those images of Tao Porchon-Lynch doing unbelievable poses at age 98 are still amazing, the three hip replacements she’s had along the way are seemingly more relevant than ever. Now that yoga has become so firmly codified as the emblem of a healthy lifestyle, the determination of its efficacy is being more thoroughly weighed against people’s actual experience and the rigors of science.

    Teachers are expected to make students feel safe in ways that early innovators were not concerned with. Even those who consider this trend to be a detrimental form of political correctness are still having to make adjustments to protect themselves in the new climate. Of course, this is greatly complicated by the advent and predominance of social media, which has created new avenues for obfuscation and garnering market share.

    Students are coming to yoga with an entirely different set of filters than previous generations.

    Average newbee yoga attendees of today rarely arrive with any expectation of deep philosophical inquiry, or are even interested in yoga outside of its potential fitness benefits. Emphasis on the physicalities, and the creation of gym-style scaled yoga centers,  have effectively compartmentalized and packaged classes into a sort of teaser, geared more towards enticing participation in lucrative trainings than providing instruction in any traditional sense.

    Evolving scholarship has not only been laying bare an edifice of faith, but has coincided with the passing of Guru lineage holders and the falling pedestals of once powerful brand ambassadors. Impassioned yoga students of today would have a field day with the likes of BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois in their Yelp reviews. Harsh adjustments are becoming taboo, consent cards and trauma sensitivity training are the new fashion.

    Where does the influence of the teacher end and the students’ self-empowerment begin? Is yoga a process of adherence or discovery, or both?

    Most yoga teachers, on some level, were trained to tell people what to do. Most students expect this of their teachers. But, in absorbing all these shifts underfoot, sincere teachers are beginning to change what they are telling people. They are no longer comfortable with a continuation of the same shapes and cues that failed to lead to the heights they were promised. With external authorities stripped of some of their stature, practitioners have no choice but to resort to the discovery of their own devices.

    Good teachers are still imperative. Everybody needs a little help sometimes. There wants to be a way for someone to invite a friendly, and hopefully informed, outside reverence when pursuing a process of self-healing and support. Regardless of the viewpoint that we subscribe to in yoga, be it of a more athletic , scientific, or spiritual bent, the proof is always going to be in the people. Like it or not, we just can’t get away with the same old shit anymore. Those rising to the challenge by providing an example of transparency and honesty, are the ones inspiring new generations of earnest aspirants to carry the torch forward.

    The new discipline is inner-knowing. Teachers are only so good as they are conducive to a person no longer needing them. The veil has been lifted just enough that there is no pulling it back over our heads. Time has come for us to get clearer about what we are doing and why we are doing it. Effective yoga teaching is becoming less about imposing an arbitrary catechism on someone’s experience, and more about stirring the kind of inquiries that lead to students being able to make their own determinations.

    Originally posted at J. Brown Yoga Blog on December 5, 2016.

  • 05/23/2022 5:28 PM | Anonymous

    Yoga is known to be the ancient science of self-realization, uniting the body with the mind, urging us to look inward to discover who we really are. Growing up with the guidance of our loved ones who had our best interests at heart, to prepare us for acceptable socialization in the world, we were often times handicapped because we were urged to conform to outside opinions of who and what we could or should be, the beginning of our separation from self and obscuring one of our most healing resources, self-knowledge. Hippocrates, the father of Medicine, stated early on, “Know Thyself.” Even with the highest intentions they missed their mark, because the teachings created an imbalance and disavowed the importance of authenticity and autonomy. We learn fear: of failing, of making a mistake, of making a change. Becoming a creature of habits, patterns, and mindsets, we lose the capacity to be independent and strong in thought and action. These are attributes of Yoga, stressing the need for balance to create harmony within.

    ….Without a doubt, we can conclude that our practice is helpful in daily life as it increases our efficiency and productivity, working or playing, evoking emotional stability. One can also change their personality, making one better equipped to face the stress and strain of modern life. The synergy of balance and harmony between the mind and body makes one fit and healthy and is helpful when dealing with disease, which on closer examination reads dis-ease!

    Hatha Yoga and the Asanas are much more than physical; besides exercising the muscles and joints that comprise the infrastructure of the body, they influence the physiological systems by toning the abdominal organs, stimulating the endocrine glands, and soothing the nervous system. Digestions, elimination, and circulation are also benefitted. Respiration and breathing are strengthened by the Pranayama practices and have a positive effect on each and every cell in the body improving the oxygenation of blood, lymph, synovial fluid, and the cerebral-spinal fluid, adding to the effectiveness and efficiency of all the systems. It is complex and should have the supervision and presence of an experienced teacher, on site, to offer the proper guidance to ensure that the efforts made will be fruitful for the practitioner. This applies and extends to our Hatha Yoga practices as well.

    …Meditation and Raja Yoga….help to develop peace and tranquility, and the mental abilities of creativity, memory, and concentration, associated with sound brain function….The mind is not confined to the integrity with the borders of the brain and can entertain any truth it chooses for its own purposes. The brain processes and translates the contents of the mind’s belief systems…which can trigger nerve cell firing and chemical releases.

    The mind can lead to dangerous places as we all know and can manifest dire results when unbridled.

    Here is where meditation comes into the picture, uniting brain and mind to be an empowering and embodying force for the practitioner….My wish for you is to be truly inspired to make greater inroads into the scientific and philosophical body of resources that offers life changing possibilities, increasing and expanding the borders of our being.  

    *Excerpted from Heitzner, P. Yoga & You for a Year: From the Beginning to the End, pp. 88-90. Amazon KDP. 2020.
  • 04/20/2022 8:13 PM | Anonymous

    It's 1957. The 6-year-old boy is outside in the dead of winter looking at the Orion nebula with his new telescope. He is alone, as no one else wants to come out into the Chicago winter wind. He can’t look for too long at a time as the freezing metal eyepiece burns his skin. He pulls back from the telescope and gazes into the magnificently clear night sky. He is drawn to the red shoulder star in Orion, Betelgeuse. He feels a pull up and toward this star and feels at the same time joy and pain in his heart. He feels his connection to all things but also his confusion around the sadness in the eyes and face of one of his classmates. In this moment he sees the boy’s face and feels not only his pain but the pain of humans in the world. Tears start to flow from his eyes, freezing as they stream down his face. He gazes into the soul of Betelgeuse and asks out loud, “Why can’t all people be happy?” And then wishes for the happiness of all beings. His first memory of the Oneness in both joy and sorrow.

    It is now 1971. I’m outside on a cool autumn evening. I instinctively look up and see a group of stars, including a reddish star at the upper left. I feel a connection to these stars and a long lost memory begins to float into my awareness. What are these stars? What is this longing feeling? I have a fleeting image of a young boy looking at these stars in wonder and deep connection. “Was this me, was it in a dream?”

    I walk outside late the next  evening to look at these stars again, and I begin to hear the words of Orion, then Betelgeuse. “That’s a strange word,” I thought, and then a rush of memories flooded into my being. I was that boy gazing at the stars, loving Orion, the cosmos, living so fully, and praying for all people to be happy. What had happened to that full experience? Where had it gone all those years? Where had I gone?

    These questions reopened me to my inner self and connection to life on a deeper level. The connection I had until I was 7 years old, when I became embarrassed to be free in my actions and thoughts and constricted myself into a typical American boy. Here I was 14 years later, reconnecting to that freedom of thought and wonder and connection to life, activated by my recent delving into the science and practice of yoga. I had discovered and read a copy of the Bhagavad Gita at the college library. I had gone to the library with a friend and was magically drawn to the yoga philosophy section. The wisdom of the Gita felt so profound as it touched my soul. As if I had read these words hundreds of times before, the wisdom of the Enlightened Self guiding the ego mind, the connection of all things within ourselves.

    Yoga practice—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, and the depths of meditation—taught so clearly in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, has brought a presence, richness, and openness into my life. It has led me to connect with wonderful people, find deep relationships and friendships, given me the confidence and clarity to spend my life earning a living practicing what I love: energy medicine, Reiki, and teaching all aspects of yoga all due to the knowing that the prana flow is real, more real than my mental concepts and judgments. It led me to living for 15 years at Kripalu ashram, where every day was a deep journey into life within and around me and to transition to day-to-day life in our cynical, materialistic culture. Through yoga workshops I have traveled all around the world, meeting people of many different cultures and connecting to yoga aspirants in an open, clear way.

    I have deep gratitude for the practice of yoga and philosophy and the profound effects it has had on my life and the life of many of those I have touched—family, friends, colleagues, and, students. It’s the vibration that is opened through the practice of yoga/union that not only vibrates throughout my being but affects the world around me. The energy of light/love/presence that resounds and travels is palpable and has been a true blessing in my life.

  • 03/20/2022 2:45 PM | Anonymous

    The first time I encountered dowels in the practice of yoga was on a very small scale—short dowels placed vertically inside an upside-down chair to help stabilize the base of the neck and inner shoulders in headstand in a class with my Iyengar teacher Kevin Gardiner many decades ago. I was instantly interested in the possibilities and began to explore with dowels of different kinds. Some were wider in diameter and much longer, others were slender metal dowels covered in a pleasant padded material, making for heavy but comfortable tools of practice that could also be used as weights; others were as short as those slender and short first dowels I had used but put to different purpose, for example, as spacers for the knees when working toward Lotus Pose.

    As I began to work with dowels more regularly, I found that they could be used as “hard” belts, long blocks, seatless chairs, and more. In other words, all props share some similarities, but are also separated by significant and useful differences. And even within one kind of prop, there are variations of size and weight that can be exploited to good end.

    Each kind of dowel has a character of its own. One of the things I love about a long six-foot dowel is its simple physical presence. Hold that dowel upright in front of you between the feet and you will perhaps experience a suggestion of lift, a sense of energy, almost as though it were an externalized mudra. Pull down on the dowel at chest height and it will cause your whole body to lighten and lift and become a tool for both spinal traction and joyful ease. 

    The dowel can be used to challenge range of motion or strength, or on the contrary facilitate a movement by offering a long lever arm or quieting support. If you place a long dowel behind the back and hold it in place with the arms, it will help reveal your true range of motion in a twist such as Wide Legged Pose or Prasarita Padottanasana. This aspect of the dowel as an instrument of proprioception is invaluable—knowing where you are in space and how your body is moving.

    This tool of proprioception is fundamental for the therapeutic spinal work I do. The dowel is a powerful instrument in helping students sense their body in space and find a balanced posture and clarity in the work to bring relief, healing, and newfound strength and ease in both the practice and life. Indeed our entire yoga practice should radiate out into our daily life as a seamless continuum. Speaking of which, there are even dowels in daily life—canes, walking sticks, hiking poles, and so on. Try a Triangle Pose when out hiking, using one of your poles as a lateral support and enjoy the relief from movement in the sagittal plane for a few breaths to each side!

    One aspect of the dowel that I delighted in discovering was how it could be used as a tool for massage either on its own or in conjunction with another prop such as a chair. When one is seated on a yoga chair for example, the chair can be a point of leverage for one end of the dowel, the other end rolling over the trapezius with more or less pressure. Place the dowel on the floor and the feet can be deliciously rolled over it.

    In short, the dowel brings lightness and spinal traction, proprioception, muscle release through stretch and massage, range of motion, directionality, and challenge. As it supports it can move, or follow one’s movement, one end fixed, the other traveling with you as you enter and exit a pose such as Triangle Pose. Using a long dowel is ideal for this, with the dowel standing just beyond the toes of the externally rotated foot and the same-side hand placed high on the dowel or at shoulder height depending on range of motion in the hips and legs. It’s then possible to move into Triangle Pose with support and encouragement to avoid laterally flexing the spine as one lengthens into the pose. Support is offered throughout, allowing for an elegant exit from the pose. 

    Other movement traditions use dowels or sticks, sometimes called mobility sticks. Some are flexible and allow for different kinds of work. As always, where there is flexibility, there will be less stability. So each kind has its virtues. All are valuable and fun. 

    ©Alison West, 3.13.2022. This article may not be reproduced without the author’s permission.

    Alison West, Ph.D, E-RYT, YACEP, C-IAYT is the founder of Yoga Union and the Yoga Union Backcare & Scoliosis Center, now online. Her on-demand course, Yoga for Back Health for Yoga Journal, is available for download. She is currently writing her first Yoga book, Yoga for Backcare, which will be followed by Yoga for Scoliosis.

  • 02/22/2022 12:41 PM | Anonymous

    In 1999, I had been practicing yoga for something like seven years. I was working a day job I didn't really like, and one day I saw a sign in the yoga studio where I was practicing (Om Yoga in Manhattan) that said "teacher training." I thought to myself, “That sounds interesting. What a nice way to deepen my practice.” So that's how I became a yoga teacher. It felt like a natural extension of my yoga practicelike I had to teach.

    A few years before I was certified, I taught movement classes at a summer program at Northwestern University. I incorporated yoga into those classes, and it worked. Earlier, when I was in college at NYU, my movement teachers were incorporating yoga too, because they were all going to the same yoga studio, Jivamukti, on Second Avenue, where I was going. I followed their lead, and then I started teaching my friends. So I was teaching informally even before I got my certification.

    My first real teaching job was in Forest Hills, Queens, in a continuing education program. There were about 30 people in the class; I traveled all the way there, I made nothing, nobody had the right props, but I taught. Then I taught at yoga studios in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I taught everywhere I could, as much as I could, sometimes as many as 20 classes a week. That was it. That's how you get good. Sometimes I feel like an idiot savant, born to teach yoga, but still you have to practice, practice, practice. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice and all will come." Keep practicing and you will find out what you're doing, why you're doing it. 

    But the more I practice and try to perfect a pose, the more I realize that the practice is not so much about the pose but about what comes up in my attempt to do it. My perfection may not be a physical perfection but a perfection of understanding how to act in an effortless way, to do an action without a need for the outcome to be a particular thing. The Bhagavad Gita says: “Perform without worrying about the outcome.”

    What comes up for me in my practice are the same things I see in my students. I get frustrated, angry, doubtful, self-conscious, and competitive. I feel all of those things and that's helpful, because when I get on the New York City subway, all those emotions are going to come up in me. If I have really incorporated my practice on the mat into the whole of my life, it won't be so bad because I will have already dealt with it in the privacy of my microcosmic universe of yoga practice. So I can say, "Give me my frustration, give me my anger, give me everything that comes up with attempting to do something that is impossible." What happens when I try? Everything happens. So then, I learn what it's like to try and succeed, what it's like to try and not succeedall of this with quotations around it. It's just like every other day. But when I try mindfully, it's an informed day, a more intentional day, I'm not just getting bashed around by advertising and the newspaper, I have a little bit more of a hold on the reins and I also know that eventually the reins are going to disappear. 

    As you get older, you won't necessarily be able to do the same poses anymore. One of my friends, a beautiful yoga teacher, came to my class recently and said, "You know, I'm aging and I feel it. I can't do the poses that I used to do, and I need to be in a class where that's going to be okay." She was looking for a place where she could be with the group but be left alone when she needed to be left alone. It's the same situation we're all dealing with, which is that we're all getting older at the same rate. And this is not so dreadful. This is one of the recognitions that are probably going to set us free.

    I think the practice gives you the route to how much effort is correct. And I believe that we all go through times of too much effort and times of too little effort. And we all have to go through that to find a place of balanced effort. I've had people tell me that they've taken two months off and they feel slothful, but maybe those two months will be the best of their life for their practice. Maybe it was too much, practicing for months or years, on the same schedule. You may learn so much from the two months off than you would have had if you just kept going. Every day is different. Some days we feel like a gazelle. Some days we're a bull in a china shop. With practices where the poses are always the same—such as Bikram or Ashtanga vinyasa yoga practice—maybe it's easier to tell what's going on with your body, what kind of day you're having. It may be a bit trickier for us who want to create new sequences from day to day.

    But either way, it makes you feel alive. If you forget you're alive, do Warrior II for 10 minutes. If you start to fall asleep, metaphorically, yoga wakes you up. It sparks this life, helps us to see, “Wow, look at this body that I have.” And then, the practice is so deep that we say, “Wow, what about this yoga, and this philosophy and psychology?”

    Starting yoga is like a baby tasting ice cream for the first time, we're so astonished—wow, that feeling, that taste. Doing yoga is like that. It brings out that innocent quality in us—even in the toughest cases, the most unhappy people, feel lighter. No matter what age you come into it, you understand that there's much to discover.

    Adapted from an interview with the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

    Find more about Carla at jayayogacenter.com or on Instagram.

  • 01/18/2022 5:03 PM | Anonymous

    Smile, breathe and go slowly.
    ~Thich Nhat Hanh

    Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh’s simple, direct guidance for meditation–for life, really–has shed light on the path from my introduction to yoga to the present.

    That introduction came in 2000, a transitional year in my life for which I was seeking solace, peace, and meaning. In other words, I needed to breathe and go slowly. What began as a way to shift my energy and find solid ground has evolved into a holistic lifestyle.

    I started practicing by watching Rodney Yee on VHS tapes in my living room. I moved through periods of Bikram and Iyengar practices in studios on both US coasts. Returning to Tucson, Arizona, where I grew up, I studied the Hatha yoga tradition in the lineage of Paramahansa Yogananda, earning my 200-hour certification to begin teaching in 2005, followed by a 100-hour mindfulness meditation training.

    I found my yoga voice offering the Eight Limbs of Yoga at Mindful Yoga Studio in Tucson. I smiled, took a deep breath, and went slowly into entrepreneurship, opening Mindful Yoga just under 10 years ago as the only Latina-owned yoga refuge in Tucson.

    Around the same time, I studied for and took the Buddhist precepts, adopting the Dharma name Shraddha, which in Sanskrit means deep trust and faith. Going from teaching at other studios to opening my own studio was, indeed, a leap of trust and faith.

    The foundation of my yoga practice and teaching informs my studio and my teachers to offer a safe space for students to explore, heal, and transform their bodies and their lives. I guide students in a rhythm that allows them to move in harmony with their breath and to stay open to the moment. The focus is always on mindfully honoring the body and clearing the mind and heart for whatever comes along on the mat, and more important, off the mat.

    As the Mindful Yoga Sangha grew over the years, so did my practice, my sense of confidence in my teaching ability, and a desire to expand into the larger realm of wellness. I undertook studying with teachers close to yoga’s origins, including Ganesh Mohan, a physician and Ayurvedic practitioner who directs Svastha Yoga Therapy and Teacher Training programs, and Saraswati Vasudevan, founder of YogaVahini training, therapy, and research center in Chennai, India. In 2016, I earned the 500-hour Healing Emphasis Yoga certification offered by Inner Vision Yoga in Phoenix, Arizona, and began specializing in yoga for cancer survivors, for first responders, for grieving, and for overall healing–physically, emotionally, and mentally.

    As part of my goal of offering holistic health and wellness to the community, I earned certification with the Integrative Health & Lifestyle Program at the University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine and a certification in craniosacral therapy, both in 2019.

    All the while, Mindful Yoga Studio grew, surpassing 1,000 yoga and wellness visits a month with more than 100 classes, workshops, and private sessions in 2019. We offered a yoga teacher training, attracting 12 yogis for the 200-hour certified program. My practice and my business were graced with great blessings.

    Then came the pandemic…. Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

    We closed Mindful Yoga’s physical space, and I found myself back where I started yoga–in my living room, this time offering classes live via Zoom. The generosity of friends offering first one vacant commercial space and then another allowed us to reopen for small classes of socially distanced yogis. At its peak, Mindful Yoga attracted up to two dozen students to a class. Now, we are limited to eight yogis in person while offering the classes live via Zoom for those who choose to practice at home.

    The revelation is that smaller classes offer an intimacy that helps create a more individualized practice. By my observation, that has helped our students to deepen their practice in a time when they are grieving personal losses and an overall loss of normalcy in life. Yoga’s focus on transformation of inner self is at the root of processing grief, and my students and I are doing that processing one asana practice, one meditation, one moment at a time.

    Smile, breathe, and go slowly.

    Shraddha Hilda Oropeza founded Mindful Yoga Studio in 2012 to offer a safer space for students to explore, heal, and transform their bodies and their lives. She guides students in a rhythm that allows them to move in harmony with their breath and stay open to the moment. She has a 500-hour Healing Emphasis Yoga certification and is trained in Yoga for Cancer Survivors, Mindfulness Yoga & Meditation, Yin, Restorative, and Hatha Yoga. Shraddha has been teaching since 2005 and has more than 3,000 hours of teaching experience. She was born in Sonora, Mexico, and has lived most of her life in Tucson. She is bilingual and has a Bachelor’s degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona and a Master’s degree in Organizational Management. Shraddha is currently enrolled in the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine Wellness Coaching program. She is a certified craniosacral therapist.

  • 12/20/2021 11:02 AM | Anonymous

    I hated my first yoga class.

    Almost 30 years ago, in a small Upper West Side studio, I was one of three people attending class and the only one who was both new to the practice of yoga and who also didn’t know the others in the room. Not only did I feel like an outsider, I also felt like a stranger to my body and unsure of how to establish the relationship with it that the instructor was suggesting.

    And yet, somehow, something inside encouraged me to give the practice of yoga another shot - elsewhere and with a friend, the next time.

    And thus my yoga journey has continued onward from there. 

    In the time since, my studies, practice and orientation to teaching have been informed by my takeaways from that first class. 

    I continually reflect on what it means to be welcoming and to be as clear as I can when offering fellow students a path inward. Simultaneously, I have tried to remain aware that, in the end, what leads a person forward is something beyond me.

    Though I have enhanced my body awareness over time, my early struggles with asana have felt like a gift that keeps on giving, as it continually allows me to relate to others who feel similarly challenged to embrace their structural norms and/or their still refining sensory-motor awareness.

    Long ago, I let go of the need to “present” perfect form; I was quick to embrace instruction to feel the breath and the experience of moving from the inside out, without regard to how you looked. 

    And yet, when I first began to orient my teaching towards encouraging people to move freely and confidently and to take whatever liberties they needed to do that, it was with the orientation to make things “better” or at least “not so bad.” Within that “fix-it” approach was a resistance to embrace what “now” was offering.

    I hope that my current approach skews more towards inviting discovery and exploration.

    The PostureTweak orientation that I bring to asana has its origins in the Viniyoga teachings (I completed my 500-hour training with Gary Kraftsow) and in the fellowship I completed in Applied Functional Science with Doctors Gary Gray and David Tiberio at the Gray Institute. Subsequent studies with senior faculty at the Himalayan Institute have refined this approach even further. 

    Among the many powerful takeaways from my time at the Gray Institute was the encouragement to ask each joint/complex what it needed and what it liked to do in order to be successful.

    On the one hand, taking up that joint-by-joint conversation has shifted my sensory motor awareness and facilitated greater stability and ease in how I experience my body, but more than that, it has refined my appreciation for the energy (prana) within those joint spaces and of the broader space which holds me. 

    At the Gray Institute, I was surrounded by physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers whose bread and butter was working with professional and high performing college athletes. For these elites, refining their awareness of how the subtalar joint functioned (which is the space between the saddle-like bone called the talus and the horse it rides on, the heel bone, or the calcaneus) was the difference between their patient, client or athlete successfully refining their golf swing, their cut to the basket, their curve ball or how they lifted their grandchild… or not.  

    And, of course, all of those are wonderful objectives. And yet, to this day, Gary still marvels that what drives my interest in his work isn’t its ability to stretch or workout my students in smarter ways, but rather, that I’ve found in it, a pathway to something both incredibly subtle and also deeply profound.

    I am honored for the chance to share this approach with you. Our experience will consist of both a joint-by-joint exploration in which we ask our joints what they need and what they like and also a practice which integrates some takeaways from that investigation. There will be time for your reflections and questions, too. And naturally, we will begin with “hello… and welcome.”

    Al Bingham founded Encourage in 2013. He has been teaching yoga since 1995. Al has co-authored two books published by Random House, has been featured on the Yoga Zone DVDs, and develops yoga classes and programs for yoga studios, clinical settings and corporate environments. Al received his yoga training though Alan Finger (Yoga Zone) and Gary Kraftsow (American Viniyoga Institute). Al is also a 2011 Fellow of Applied Functional Science via the Gray Institute and a 1992 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, Al studies with the senior faculty of the Himalayan Institute and is a Certified Vishoka Meditation® Teacher. Al and his family live in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

  • 11/21/2021 11:44 AM | Anonymous

    “The human shape is a ghost made of distraction and pain.
    Sometimes pure light, sometimes cruel, trying wildly to open, this image tightly held within itself.” ~ Rumi

    My yoga journey got real the day I declared there was no purpose in life. It was sometime in December 2006, and I was at the lowest of the lowest. Depression wrapped its tentacles tightly around me and I couldn’t pull myself out. It was my dark night of the soul.  Earlier that year, I graduated from yoga teacher training at Kripalu and I thought being a yoga teacher would provide some financial stability to support myself as a performing artist but I was wrong. The glory and inspiration I felt at the end of the training did not survive the harshness and hopelessness I felt about my life in New York City. My marriage was failing, and so was my career as a performing artist.

    One night I woke up from a nightmare and couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat in bed despondent. My will to keep my marriage and career going finally collapsed and dissolved. It was like a magic show; it went poof and disappeared.

    In April 2007, I got an opportunity to move into Kripalu as an intern to become a yoga teacher trainer. I took the position not because that was my dream but because I just needed a ticket out of NYC. Little did I know living at Kripalu and throwing myself into selfless service would ultimately save my life and sanity. I experienced much mercy and grace from the Divine in those eight years I spent there. Swami Kripalu’s teachings were the balm that nurtured my broken Soul and brought my Spirit back to wholeness.

    Life at the Kripalu Center was full of magic and wonder. I was very lucky to work with many incredible senior teachers and staff to deliver the Kripalu experience. We worked hard, studied hard, and laughed equally hard as we built conscious and loving relationships with each other. I think one of the most striking experiences during my time at Kripalu was being able to bear witness to how devotion to love, selfless service and sangha gradually lifted me out of my depression. It took years, but I was finally able to swim side by side with depression instead of drowning in it.

    There are five teachings that drastically altered my life and consciousness.  

    1.  The value of self-observation with compassion.
    2.  The inquiry process.
    3.  Building trust in relationships.
    4.  Satya - Truthfulness.
    5.  The path of love.

    Over time, these teachings became my values and building blocks as I developed the skills to transform my own suffering into precious gems of wisdom. The path of love has a special place in my heart. I remember one afternoon while I was walking in Babuji’s Garden at the Kripalu Center, I felt an immense feeling of openness and an acute clarity in vision and mind. Suddenly time stopped and I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of unconditional love. I kneeled and cried.

    Weeks later, I met Dr. Satya Narayana Dasia, a renowned yoga master, and sat in one of his dharma talks on the practice of love. He asked the class “Do you know how to love?” Hearing his question was a light bulb moment for me. I realized I didn’t really know how to love. And I finally understood that on the path of Self-Realization, it is important and necessary to keep asking questions. Asking questions got me out of Spiritual complacency and the mindless regurgitation of Spiritual teachings.

    Over the years, my yoga journey has taken me to many depths and heights. I have grown so much, and I attribute much of my successful relationships to these values that I adopted from my days at Kripalu. Above all, the subject of love became a forefront inquiry for me. Learning about love and how to love have been so humbling. And after 14 years of inquiry, I am still just scratching the surface. Love is as vast as the sky and ocean, and as mysterious as the night and the moon. I strongly believe love is the answer to our divides. I invite you to deeply inquire into love and I shall leave you with this question from the book True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh:

    “Do you have time to love?”

    Jai Bhagwan,



  • 10/20/2021 7:39 AM | Anonymous

    My yoga journey began in a very unconventional way… as a punishment.

    During the beginning of my senior year of high school I attended a party that served alcohol.  Clearly a representation of pre-prefrontal cortex maturity  .  My dad found out and told me to go to bed and we’d talk in the morning.  I didn’t sleep very well that night, but then I also thought since my dad was a yoga teacher and meditation practitioner that he may just say, "Luke don’t do it again."  Boy was I wrong.  In the morning he told me I had to turn myself in to my coach because I broke the team rules of conduct and did not follow through with my agreement with my coach and fellow teammates.  It didn’t matter to him that a lot of my teammates were at the party and the parents of some of them bought the beer and collected keys from anyone who didn’t have a designated driver.  He and my mom were “new” to this rural Wisconsin culture and couldn’t possibly understand the parenting required in “these parts of the woods.” I pleaded and pleaded for him to change his mind, because playing high school sports was really important to me.  He wouldn’t budge.  So not knowing where this may go, I told him I would do anything to not have to turn myself in. “Ok. I have a proposal,” he said. “Every morning before school for the remainder of the season meditate with me for 20 minutes. If you miss a day you will have to turn yourself in.”  I took that deal as fast as I could, but little did I know what I was up against. 

    The first few days to be honest were torture on all levels.  Physically sitting on the floor on a meditation cushion in a cross-legged position was extremely uncomfortable.  As an athlete back then they didn’t teach flexibility.  My hamstrings and quads were strong, but tight. My back hurt because all the strength I had developed from lifting weights and running sprints around the field or on the courts did not apparently do a great job of strengthening the deep muscles of my back that were required to sit in an erect position.  Hmm… it made me wonder how I could be so strong and so weak at the same time.  Mentally, 20 minutes seemed like an eternity.  My mind was ripping and running every which way.  Holding a train of thought or a focus on my breath as I was taught by my dad was laughable.  Could my mind be any busier, noisier, and more disorganized? Psychologically, I fidgeted from anxiety of some nonsensical FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly checked the clock from a case of utter boredom because at that moment I was so uncomfortable, I’d rather escape than tap in.  

    As the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into the middle of Octoberthank goodness football season is shortthings got better, meaning less like torture.  I started to enjoy the quiet I was feeling after the practice was done and sitting still was becoming something I could actually do for short periods of time. I didn’t miss a day and didn’t have to turn myself in.  This was a total success because it was the only reason I took on this “punishment.”  However, the balancing, nurturing, and healing inherent in yoga practice had created some other grooves… 

    Fast forward 1 year.  I was sitting in my dorm room at Marquette University and ruminating about how stressed I was about my upcoming midterm exams.  My anxiety was really messing with me.  Then out of nowhere (or so I thought then  ) I remembered how I felt after the meditation I had done with my dad.  AND I remembered him sliding my meditation cushion under my bed.  “This is here just in case,” he said as he pushed it way in the back.  I grabbed it and sat down.  Those 20 minutes were some of the most enjoyable I experienced.  I saw my anxiety fall away and my mind catch the thread of peace and contentment that was somehow locked inside, waiting for a moment of quietude to come out and bless “my space” again.  

  • 09/20/2021 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”

    ― Barry Lopez

    I first began studying yoga back during my days in graduate school in the early 1990s, while I was training as a dance/movement therapist. I realized very quickly that my understanding and perception of the world were both expanding courtesy of my yoga practice. Seeing anything on a more profound level is similar to opening one’s eyes underneath the surface of a lake. Suddenly, the idea of what exists is extended. A whole other universe appeared, and a literal deeper understanding of what the world contains made itself known. Every area of yoga has allowed me entry into another place, whether it was the revelation of a well-executed pose or the world of meditation.

    Similarly, deep diving into anatomy has given me a path into a different level of understanding and an ability to look at an entirely diverse and yet connected universe. I initially studied anatomy in the standard form of parts and pieces, learned the names of bones and muscles, and spent quite a lot of time memorizing from books, until I knew I had to learn directly from the body itself. While I was first wary of human dissection, I had to discover for myself some of the mysteries under our very thin layer of skin. I found the inner world was full of mountains, rivers, and valleys, just like our larger world outside. I initially planned to do only a few dissections as a means to enhance my knowledge, but I found I had some skill level and talent at dissection in showing a story. Since those early days, I have assisted and taught hundreds of dissections, and each body has been a gift of learning that I take back to the living.

    Dissection is, after all, also taking a viewpoint on what structures to see and how to see them. The traditional words of anatomy become more interesting when one learns that many of the Latin and Greek origins used describe a picture, such as the coracoid process of the scapula--named for the crow’s beak shape--or that tuberosity described the shape of a bump that forms on a bone as an attachment point. As I dove further into myofascial anatomy, my interest shifted away from purely muscles and bones and toward fascia, a biological fabric of connection that traditionally has been ignored in many books, but is having a moment in the movement world. What I wanted to see reversed itself, and having additional names helped me see what I had missed previously, or simply hadn’t noticed due to a lack of awareness.

    The choice I have made to be an anatomy dissector might seem an odd co-career for a yoga teacher, but I have always been interested in exploring the inner and outer world, which reflect each other in so many ways. I find that poets and anatomists alike ponder questions of form, beauty and perception.

    The idea even of misperceptions and correct perception can be thought of in terms of the Sanskrit avidyā (“ignorance” or “incorrect understanding”) and vidya (“understanding”). Sometimes translated as “absence of correct knowledge,” avidyā is also categorized as a klesha, which causes human suffering. While we cannot avoid all suffering, we can learn to soften suffering through a shift in perspective.

    In my own teachings, I often quote the Barry Lopez passage at the beginning of this article, because in dissection as well as in life, one can only ever know part of a story, of any reality. When I see someone on my table, I can guess at body patterns and surgeries that may or may not prove true as we dive deeper into the body form. However, I cannot know for sure if this was someone who was in pain or comfort, or what his or her own perception of his or her life was like. What is left behind is like a seashell--a beautiful remains of a life carved into shape, but not the actual existence itself.

    Yoga and anatomy both have taught me compassion, and, above all, that we have to practice that compassion every single day. We all make daily mistakes in our perspective. The danger is clinging to avidyā, and professing to understand absolute ideas of knowledge. Science, like yoga, is questioning and curious and willing to be wrong. Taking time to focus on our perspective, and being able to change that in light of new ideas or knowledge, can help expand our ways of working in anatomy and in life.

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