Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal (November 2008)

WAYS OF THE WARRIOR by Hillari Dowdle (p.74)

This is the kind of thing Yoga Journal should be doing more of. Ms. Dowdle examines the way Virabhadrasana 1 varies in different schools of yoga, focusing in particular on Iyengar, Ashtanga, Anusara, Kripalu and Viniyoga. Comparative discussions of different yoga schools often veer between "ours is the only right way of doing it" and "it's good, it's all yoga." Neither of these attitudes are particularly helpful. Here the approach is "this is what we do and why we do it," which is much more useful. YJ did an article like this on Utthita Trikonasana, Triangle Pose, some years ago: "The Right Triangle" by Todd Jones.

BASICS: PARSVOTTANASANA" by Natasha Rizopoulos (p.56)

A breakdown of key points and variations for Intense Side Stretch Pose.


A basic/intermediate forward bend and twist practice.


A simple and straightforward breakdown of this advanced transition from Head Stand 2 to Crow Pose.

ANATOMY: YOUR BEST BREATH by Roger Cole (p.97)

A look at diaphragmatic breathing. Iyengar Yoga teacher and sleep research scientist Roger Cole has written several great anatomy-based articles for YJ. ("Yoga Shouldn't Hurt")

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Nothing Maker

Chrissie Hynde has a new Pretenders album out, “Break Up The Concrete”, with a great song called “The Nothing Maker.” It’s very yogic in its way:

He doesn’t make shoes
Or design any shirt
Or take photographs
But no-one gets hurt

And he doesn’t look trendy
Like guys in magazines
You won’t see him at parties
He’s not the face behind the scenes

He makes nothing
He’s the nothing maker
He’s the maker of nothing
He’s the nothing maker

And he doesn’t paint pictures
Or write poetry
Or work on the stage
For others to see

And he don’t expect much
As Santa Claus knows
‘Cause he doesn’t make lists
Of toys and new clothes

He makes nothing
He’s the nothing maker
He’s the maker of nothing
He’s the nothing maker

Everyone’s chasing
A reason to live
Mostly they take more than they give
The succeeder justifies
Why he needs more than the rest
Believes his own lies
And thinks he’s the best

My guy doesn’t make movies
To suit an audience’s whim
He lives by a code
Known only to him

He doesn’t make money
To buy watches and cars
‘Cause there’s no time and no place to go
For a man who has nothing to show

He makes nothing
He’s the nothing maker
He’s the maker of nothing
He’s the nothing maker

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Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal (Oct 2008)

A few interesting things this month:

WELL BEING: GOOD MEMORY by Hilary Dowdle (pp. 43)

A great micro-introduction to the idea of neuroplasticity, the brain’s continual self-reorganization as a result of experience.

“Many people still think of the brain as a machine that wears out over time--the gears start to slip, and the belts get loose,” says neuroplasticity guru Michael Merzenich, a professor at the Keck Center for Integrative Neuroscience at the University of California at San Francisco. “But there’s a completely different way of looking at it. It’s a machine that’s constantly remodeling itself based on how you use it. When we start to lose our cognitive abilities, it’s not so much a problem of the brain’s physical condition but a result of how it’s been used.”

It’s great that this concept makes its way into the pages of Yoga Journal. The predominant take on yoga in the US is neo-religious, but some schools, such as Iyengar--the kind I practice and teach--has a very strong neuro-mechanical element which often gets looked down upon as being somehow less important than devotional practice.

BASICS: URDHVA MUKHA SHVANASANA by Natasha Rizopoulos (pp. 66)

A great break down of key points and variations of Upward Facing Dog.


An intermedate/advanced practice to strengthen the arms and core and open the hips in preparation for Ashtavakrasana (Ashtavakra’s Pose).

PEACE OF MIND by Nora Isaacs (pp. 83)

A look at the idea of the Buddhist practice of mindfulness within the context of asana practice.

MASTERCLASS: PINCHA MAYURASANA by Desiree Rumbaugh (pp. 101)

A short sequence designed to get you into Peacock Feather Pose/Forearm Stand from the perspective of Anusara yoga. If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the Universal Alignment Principles of Anusara Yoga much of the technical terminology may go over head, but it might be worth experimenting with as the language they use is very evocative.

And then, of course, there’s the usual panoply of inspirational and fluffy lifestyle stuff.

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Upcoming Documentary: "Enlighten Up!"

Check out this trailer for the upcoming doc "Enlighten Up!" produced and directed by Kate Churchill from Nama Productions.

Can't wait. It looks excellent.

[Thanks to

"It's what elevates you above the beasts of the field, it's what makes you *special*."

"You invest so much in it, don't you? It's what elevates you about the beasts of the field, it's what makes you special. Homo sapiens, you call yourself. Wise Man. Do you even know what it is, this consciousness you cite in your own exaltation? Do you even know what it's for?

"Maybe you think it gives you free will. Maybe you've forgotten that sleepwalkers converse, drive vehicles, commit crimes and clean up afterward, unconscious the whole time. maybe nobody's told you that even waking souls are only slaves in denial.

"Make a conscious choice. Decide to move your index finger. Too late! The electricity's already halfway down your arm. Your body began to act a full half-second before your conscious self "close" to, for the self chose nothing; something else set your body in motion, sent an executive summary--almost an afterthought--to the homunculus behind your eyes. That little man, that arrogant subroutine that thinks of itself as the person, mistakes correlation for causality: It reads the summary and it sees the hand move, and it thinks that one drove the other.

"But it's not in charge. You're not in charge. If free will even exists, it doesn't share living space with the likes of you.

"Insight, then. Wisdom. The quest for knowledge, the derivation of theorems, science and technology and all those exclusively Human pursuits that must surely rest on a conscious foundation. Maybe that's what sentience would be for--if scientific breakthroughs didn't spring fully formed from the subconscious mind,. manifest themselves in dreams, as full-blown insights after a deep night's sleep. It's the most basic rule of the stymied researcher: stop thinking about the problem. Do something else. It will come to you if you just stop being conscious of it.

"Every concert pianist knows that the surest way to ruin a performance is to be aware of what the fingers are doing. Every dancer and acrobat knows enough to let the mind go, let the body run itself. Every driver of any manual vehicle arrives at destinations with no recollection of the stops and turns and roads travelled in getting there. You are all sleepwalkers, whether climbing creative peaks or slogging through some mundane routine for the thousandth time. You are all sleepwalkers.

"Don't even try to talk about the learning curve. Don't bother citing the months of deliberate practice that precede the unconscious performance, or the years of study and experiment leading up to the gift-wrapped eureka moment. So what if your lessons are all learned consciously? Do you think that proves there's no other way? Heuristic software's been learning from experience for over a hundred years. Machines master chess, cars learn to drive themselves, statistical programs face problems and design the experiments to solve them and you think that the only path to learning leads through sentience? You're Stone Age nomads eking out some marginal existence on the veldt--denying even the possibility of agriculture, because hunting and gathering was good enough for your parents.

"Do you want to know what consciousness is for? Do you want to know the only real purpose it serves? Training wheels. You can't see both aspects of the Necker Cube at once, so it lets you focus on one and dismiss the other. that's a pretty half-assed way to parse reality. You're always better off looking at more than one side of anything. Go on, try. Defocus. It's the next logical step.

"Oh, but you can't. There's something in the way.

"And it's fighting back."

The above is an excerpt from the challenging but excellent hard scifi/post-cyberpunk novel "Blindsight" by Peter Watts. It tells the story of a first contact attempt with an utterly alien and potentially hostile species in deep space by a team of astronauts.


Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal

Here are four articles of note from the current, March 2008, issue of Yoga Journal, on newsstands now.

• YOGA SHOULDN’T HURT by Roger Cole (p.79)

This excellent article is a distillation of three excellent articles written for the Yoga Journal website on care and recovery for the hamstrings, the knees and the sacro-iliac joints. When students ask me about how to cope with these injuries, I often send them home with print-outs of these articles. He discusses the anatomical structures involved, how the injuries happen and what to do to both prevent and recover from them. Essential reading.

(For a listing of all his articles for the magazine, go here.)

• BASICS: TEACHER’S PET by Natasha Rizopoulos (p.54)

Ms. Rizopoulos’ article is an excellent primer on the essential aspects of Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog). She runs through all the basic do’s and don’ts, with good illustrations. (The model has a really beautiful Adho Mukha Shvanasana. It’s such a simple and modest pose, it can be easy to dismiss, even when done with skill. It's worth taking a moment to admire even the simpler poses when presented with a solid interpretation.)

See also Julie Gudmestad’s “Shoulder Saver” from the February 2008 issue for a more detailed look at the shoulders and rotator cuff muscles in this pose.

• HOME PRACTICE: RAY OF LIGHT by Richard Rosen (p.73)

A simple, well-illustrated walk through of a fairly basic Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation).

• ANATOMY: LOVE TRIANGLE by Julie Gudmestad (p.111)

Ms. Gudmestad goes into a lot of depth with regards to the positioning and strengthening of the neck in Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), useful for all the lateral standing poses, and an excellent preparation for Shirshasana (Head Stand) down the road.


Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal

I found four articles of note to tell you about in the February 2008 issue of Yoga Journal. And because, of course, I am a man of opinions, I have a few comments to make about them.

• BASICS: WITH A TWIST, by Richard Rosen (pp.50-56):

Mr. Rosen gives us a breakdown of the seated twist Marichyasana 3. He has some great things to say about the pelvis (keep it neutral) and the lower abdomen (keep it soft), with a nice little exercise using Supta Baddha Konasana (Reclined Bound Angle Pose) with a block under the pelvis to explore the sacrum. There's also a great prone trunk lengthening exercise that he describes with a blanket roll under the hip joints. However, he tells us:

"'ll press your sacrum the left side of the sacrum in to twist left and the left side of the sacrum in to twist right."

Ouch! Especially if you have sacroiliac joint issues (as do I). I imagine his idea is to have the twist evolve evenly across the entire length of the spine, but putting pressure on the sacrum like that is not a good idea in my opinion. Better to keep the sacrum and pelvis aligned with each other and squared off with the legs, allowing the twist to happen higher up the spine in the thoracic vertebrae, where they have room to turn.

And if only Yoga Journal would actually feature a picture of a real beginner doing the pose, rather than the advanced person they have presenting it, seated on a very thin blanket and binding. But this is a constant problem with the magazine.

• THE SECRET TO BETTER ARM BALANCES, by Jason Crandell (pp.91-97):

I really liked this article. The model's poses are beautiful and well executed by Iyengar standards. Mr Crandell's text includes a nice balance of precise instruction and imagery.

• MASTER CLASS: URDHVA PRASARITA EKAPADASANA, by Desirée Rumbaugh (pp.103-111)

This is without a doubt an article for the advanced student. Both the sequence and the instructions are not for the beginner, and really maybe only for the more advanced intermediate practitioner of Anusara Yoga. I think this is great. There needs needs to be more high-level writing about asana out there. This sequence to lead you into the standing spilt of Urdhva Prasarita Ekapadasana (Single Leg Extended Up Pose) is taught from the perspective of the Anusara Yoga Universal Principles of Alignment, which I'm not qualified to comment on, but Ms. Rumbaugh's article is very interesting to read and her poses are masterful.

There was one thing that really leapt out at me as being dubious, however. She presents a forward-bending variation of Eka Pada Raja Kapotasana 1 (Single Leg King Pigeon Pose) as a hip-opener, which is certainly very standard. (Although, I believe, not approved by Mr. Iyengar who feels it is a distortion of the pose. It's always hard to know what to do with these proclamations from the Mothership, as he has been known to change his mind.) My disagreement comes with this suggestion that Ms. Rumbaugh makes:

"Keep your front foot flexed and your hip lifted up off the floor...To build ankle strength, keep your front foot flexed, with it's outer edge strongly rooted in the earth and the outer anklebone lifted. If your front ankle collapses, the pose will be less effective as a hip opener, and you will risk knee pain and possible injury."

To my mind, flexing the foot and lifting the ankle will cause the muscles of the outer hip and thigh to grip. It will certainly increase the sensation in the outer hip, but if the muscles are engaged, they cannot possibly stretch, and the range of motion of the femur will be limited. Knee pain in this pose is likely to come from the femur not turning out enough to bring the top part of the knee joint into alignment with the bottom part. Gripping the outer hip muscles will do nothing to help that. Better to support the thigh with a prop (block, bolster, blanket) so as not to sink too deeply into it, relax the leg by allowing the sole of the foot to turn up towards the ceiling and the outer ankle to drop. Focus instead on turning the top of the femur out in the socket to bring proper alignment back to the knee joint.

• ANATOMY: SHOULDER SAVER by Julie Gudmestad (pp. 113-115)

Ms. Gudmestad addresses some foundational principals of how to use Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) to keep the rotator cuffs healthy and strong. Essential reading.

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"River of Gods" by Ian McDonald

"As Mother India approaches her centenary, nine people are going about their business—a gangster, a cop, his wife, a politician, a stand-up comic, a set designer, a journalist, a scientist, and a dropout. And so is Aj—the waif, the mind reader, the prophet—when she one day finds a man who wants to stay hidden.

"In the next few weeks, they will all be swept together to decide the fate of the nation.

"River of Gods teems with the life of a country choked with peoples and cultures—one and a half billion people, twelve semi-independent nations, nine million gods. Ian McDonald has written the great Indian novel of the new millennium, in which a war is fought, a love betrayed, a message from a different world decoded, as the great river Ganges flows on."

"River of Gods" by Ian McDonald doesn't have much to do with the practice of yoga, but for anyone interested in Indian culture, it's a wild read. A post-cyberpunk SF novel, it is set in the turbulent streets of Varanasi 50 years into the future, and recasts the usual ultra-modern SF tropes--artificial intelligences, alien contact, extreme body-modifications--in decidedly Indian terms. The imagining of a future centered not on America or Europe is refreshing, and his use of language, the merging and repurposing of old words and concepts is great fun to read.

Available from

Yoga Rag Rag Round-Up: Yoga + Joyful Living

Yoga + Joyful Living, the magazine run by the Himalayan Institute, is a little light and fluffy for my taste, but their heart is in the right place and it often features some great information. Here's a selection of highlights from issue 99 (January-February 2008) on newsstands now:

"Pilgrimage of a Lifetime! Journey to the City of the Gods" by Sandra Anderson

"At a spiritual festival in India every January, millions of pilgrims and adepts use the nexus of cosmic energy to empower their personal practices and to promote the welfare of all living beings. What can you expect if you join them?"

The link will take you to the text of the article, but it's worth checking out the magazine for the beautiful pictures of the festival.

"Sutra II.3: The Source of Suffering" Translation and Commentary by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

Commentary on the kleshas, the five inherent causes of affliction.

• "Abs to the Rescue" by Doug Keller

"The health of your back depends on the support of your abdominals--but not the ones you think."

Doug Keller's article features a discussion of the structures of the spine and the supportive nature of the different parts of the abdominal wall. It also includes some strengthening exercises. Keller maintains an archive of his articles here, posting each one after it is no longer available on newsstands.

Yoga Rag Round-Up: Yoga Journal "My Yoga Mentor Newsletter"

I am really not a fan of Yoga Journal these days. Over the past few years it has become more and more unreadable, with only the occasional article and Julie Gudmestad's anatomy column worth spending the time on. In its heyday, in the eighties and nineties, it was a wonderful resource of valuable information, but now it's mostly full of puff pieces with recipes and beauty tips and some occasionally very bad practice sequences. Every so often, however, some good stuff gets through, especially on the website, where they have an excellent page and newsletter ("My Yoga Mentor" which you can subscribe to on the teacher's page) geared towards teachers.

This month's newsletter includes an interesting article about sequencing by Richard Rosen, a Piedmont-based yoga teacher, contributing editor to Yoga Journal and author ("The Yoga of Breath" and "Pranayama Beyond the Fundamentals"). It features a short discussion on how to sequence, plus the following sequences:

• 45-Minute Beginners
• Advanced Beginners
• Headache
• Menstruation
• Depression
• Groins
• Shoulders
• Forward Bends
• Backbends

Check out also, from a few years back, this excellent article: "The Principles of Sequencing" by Donald Moyer.

The newsletter also features a great short piece from Ms. Gudmestad about setting yourself up for Shavasana (Corpse Pose), and a piece by Sara Avant Stover about different approaches to the pose, "Sink Into Stillness" and a short Q&A with John Friend.

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Yoga, Inc.

Another excellent documentary about yoga. This one, by John Philp, uses Bikram Yoga as a focus to look at the way in which yoga and commercialism have collided in the US. As far as I know it does not yet have distribution in the US, but you can buy copies from the filmmaker himself.

More clips here.

Yoga Unveiled

This documentary, by Gita and Mukesh Desai is wonderful. Beautiful footage, great interviews and chock full of valuable information. I use it in my Teacher Training seminars. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the history and philosophy of yoga.


Teaching Them To Accept The Snake...

This is a rather charming paranoia piece from what seems to be the early 1980's. It was posted to YouTube by LaneCh as part of a CNN thread on Christianity vs. Yoga. I must say that there are one or two things the piece presents as yoga that most yogins would raise an eyebrow at as well. It's extremely inflammatory.

Having being raised and educated Catholic by the very kind and compassionate Benedictine monks of Downside School (terrible name), I think I tend to agree that strict adherents to Christian sects should probably not be practicing yoga, as the goals of yoga, regardless of the lineage, tend to be very much incompatible with many of the Christian theologies.


Time Magazine: "When Yoga Hurts" by Pamela Paul

Yoga has hit the national media once again in an article in Time Magazine. Ms. Paul's article makes some extremely good points.

There are, however, some serious flaws in the underlying assumptions of the article that are indicative of the common approach of the media and the public to yoga.

More editorializing after the jump.


The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga

I know I'm a little behind the curve with this posting, as it's already been covered by other yoga blogs (the very excellent souljerky, in particular), but I find myself continuously referring people to Ron Rosenbaum's great article for "The Hostile New Age Takeover of Yoga." It's such a relief to hear someone else talking about this.

What Mr. Rosenbaum refers to as "Yoga Media" is only the outward expression of a deep flaw in the yoga community. So often yogic practices are used as justification for strengthening of ego and attachment rather than for their abandonment. Yoga Journal has become unreadable over the last few years as it has turned into an InStyle Magazine wannabee. The only articles worth reading are Julie Gudmestad's excellent articles on anatomy.

The worst thing about this general trend is the way in which one is frowned upon for bringing such things up. I've read that, as yogis, we are supposed to be open and to love and accept unconditionally. I would counter that by saying that, as yogis, we are supposed to be conscious and discerning. We should be able to tell the difference between things that will lead us further towards the goal of freedom from the suffering of daily life and things that will reinforce our ego and our attachments to the attractions and repulsions of the material world.

Read the article. He makes many good points.

Elvis Presley Takes a Very Strange Yoga Class


Olympic Yoga?

I have no more than a superficial knowledge of Bikram yoga (I would keel over and die trying to exercise in that level of heat), but the school seems to be heavily involved in competitive yoga demonstrations such as the International Yoga Asana Championship. An article appeared recently in The Daily Telegraph in the UK reporting on a desire to make Yoga an event at the Olympics.

My knee-jerk reaction is that yoga should not be competitive in any situation and should definitely not be presented in such a format lest the general public (and those who might begin practicing yoga) think this is in any way the point of practice. As a practitioner, I have found it is very easy to fall into the trap of competitiveness, both with myself and with others. As a teacher it becomes so clearly apparent how any movement in that direction is detrimental to the student. A student with the slightest amount of competitiveness in their approach is completely closed off to new information coming from outside, and worse, from within.

Check out the article, see what you think, leave a comment and let us all know.

Yoga in the strangest places...

The very funny, and apparently very limber, Jeremy Piven does a very respectable Vashisthasana II (in suit pants and tie, no less) in the first episode of the new season of ENTOURAGE on HBO.