We Are One

So a year has flown by, and here I am just getting around to sharing some images and reflections from our one-year anniversary.

It was a beautiful afternoon that celebrated a year of Iyengar Yoga Hawaii as well as our relocation into a new studio twice the size. We kept it silly!

Jan, the Queen of Shoulderstand, and Mami (this was her first pot luck!).

Jan, the Queen of Shoulderstand, and Mami (this was her first pot luck!).

Momi and Mark expressed the value of belonging and community in a center for yoga…and that when life hands you a mustache, best to grin and go with it.

Momi and Mark expressed the value of belonging and community in a center for yoga…and that when life hands you a mustache, best to grin and go with it.

American Gothic meets Hawaii?

American Gothic meets Hawaii?

Ken, Susie, and enter the mustache!

Ken, Susie, and enter the mustache!

I’m thinking it’s time to update the Teachers page with some new headshots…

I’m thinking it’s time to update the Teachers page with some new headshots…

I mean, just look at sassy hipster Cynthia! Who wouldn’t want to take a yoga class with this woman?

I mean, just look at sassy hipster Cynthia! Who wouldn’t want to take a yoga class with this woman?

In all seriousness, though, celebrating year One really got me thinking. It started when I was poking around on Amazon looking for party decor. There were cute cake toppers and powder pink and blue balloons and an “I Am One” banner designed to be hung from a toddler’s high chair.

I Am One.

Isn’t that what yoga’s all about?

Yoga teaches us that we are not the scattered, dis-integrated beings that our racing thoughts, feelings, aching body parts, and evanescent emotions would have us believe. Nor are our bodies separate from our minds (or our consciousness, or our senses, or our breath…). Yoga is a sophisticated ancient-future technology to help us realize the intrinsic unity which we already possess within. One of the definitions of yoga, after all, is “union.”

Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.
— B.K.S. Iyengar

So there is unity within. There is meditation in action, when all the parts of the embodiment are gathered together in the singular moment of self-experiencing. When I spoke at the anniversary party, I reminded the students that there are moments when the isolated instructions about body parts, directionality, breath awareness, movements, and actions come together in an experience of a unified whole. You’re not just in the pose – you are the pose. In these moments there is nothing to change, nothing to fix, nothing to strive for. You are one. All of the teachers at Iyengar Yoga Hawaii work to make sure even beginners are aware that this experience is accessible to them.

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On a spiritual level, yoga gives those who are inclined to believe in a soul (atman) ways to experience their own eternality. We chisel away at the externalities of thought, sense objects outside of the self, and living in the past or the future so that we may have an experience of pure consciousness of that which never changes (purusa). At such time, the piece of divine consciousness within each of us becomes aware of its innate oneness with the universal consciousness, or God.

But regardless of whether or not one has the inclination to believe in God — it’s not required for the practice of yoga — the experience of oneself at the inmost depths, as is facilitated by yoga, proffers profound shifts in the way we relate to the world and to others. Through direct experiences of the tranquility possible within – consistently, devotedly, and uninterruptedly over a long period of time (Sutra 1.14) – we become ever more inclined towards tranquility, compassion, love, and understanding towards others. It’s an organic and evolving process of realizing our existence is inseparably woven together with those around us. In other words, when you practice yoga, everyone wins because we are One.

Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.
— Isha Upanishad

Yoga and Living Courageously

virabhadrasana 1 (warrior/hero pose). Photo by traviselder.media

virabhadrasana 1 (warrior/hero pose). Photo by traviselder.media

Courage. From the Latin cor meaning heart.

Many people have told me that I’m brave, probably because they’ve watched me do brave things. The reality is that I’m often scared inside, but I do things anyway because I’m determined not to let my fears get in the way of living life to the fullest.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I.20 inspires me to live courageously:

Shraddha virya smrti samadhiprajna purvakah itaresham

Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigor, keen memory and power of absorption

— Mr. Iyengar’s translation

Shraddha is faith – not just blind faith, but the kind of faith that is born from lived experience. Virya connotes strength and vigor in our efforts. Smrti is memory. Samadhi is profound absorption, and prajna is awareness.

So it goes something like this: Remembering the courageous acts of our past, we trust and have faith that the acts of courage now facing us will be similarly worth the effort. With strong-minded, vigorous intensity, we absorb ourselves in the act with total attention – even though we don’t know exactly how things will turn out.

virabhadrasana 3 (warrior/hero pose). Photo by traviselder.media

virabhadrasana 3 (warrior/hero pose). Photo by traviselder.media

This is the state that poet John Keats called “Negative Capability”: when one is “capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

Practicing yoga asanas gets us used to this state of dynamic uncertainty. The benefits percolate out into life in general. Courage follows action follows courage…and so on.

The courage is felt in the instant of doing, when fear and doubts recede, and all is heart.

Is it Easy? Part II: 10 Tips for Easeful Practice

Yoga is the art of self-transformation. To transform yourself requires facing up to your limits, again and again, with earnest efforts to move yourself further along. Is this easy? In my last post I answered this question, in a nutshell, with “no, but it’s worth it.”

The good news is that it doesn’t have to feel so hard, either. There are many ways to cultivate a more easeful yoga practice.

Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence, and benevolence of spirit.
— Sutra II.46, B.K.S. Iyengar’s translation.

The Yoga Sutras speak of “effortless effort.” When you’re having trouble in a pose, this may seem like an impossibility. But the Sutras also speak of another state: sthira sukham asanam. Sthira means firm, fixed or steady. Sukham means happiness or delight. “Steadiness” and “lightness” are very achievable feelings. Here are 10 ways you can cultivate them in your yoga practice.

  1. Still the Eyes

    Thoughts follow the gaze. If your eyes move around while you practice, so will your thoughts. If you discipline your eye movements during yoga it will be easier for your mind to concentrate. Beware of closing your eyes too often – this can lull you into a dull state (which feels like relaxation or absorption when really it’s a sign that your mind is trying to “check out”). For the most part, keep your eyes open, steady, and unwavering in order to stay fully present to what you are doing.

  2. Respect the Breath

    Your cells know what they need in terms of aeration, and they will ask for it. Let them have it. In Light on Yoga, there are often instructions that describe how the breath will come in a specific pose. This is determined by the nature of each pose itself.

    Whether fast or slow, shallow or deep, let your breath come and go freely through the nose, without constraint. If you try to prolong or control the flow of breath during asana practice, that can put strain on the nerves and make it more difficult to stay in the pose. The muscles, too, will get tired faster. Why not make it easier on yourself by letting the pose reveal to you the right pace, depth, and quality of the breath? If you want to practice breath control (pranayama), best to do it in a separate practice. (See #9.)

  3. Move with the Breath

    Some movements are best done on an inhalation, others on an exhalation. Its easier to get into poses when you work with the breath in this way. Time your movements so they are synchronized with the breath in or the breath out. This will take you deeper – both into the pose and into the meditative state.

    Once you have moved with that inhalation or exhalation breath, resume “normal” (a.k.a. unconstrained) breathing as you remain in the pose. You may repeat that synchronized breath-movement action several times in order to go deeper, with normal breathing in between as you work to maintain what you have gained.

  4. Respect the Stages

    Sometimes the best way to move forward is to back up. I remember I used to exasperate my teacher Gloria when I was in my 20s. “Don’t get ahead of me,” she would say. At the time, I couldn’t see the point. Why work in a preliminary stage of the pose when I could go all the way in on the first try?

    It wasn’t until years later that I realized the truth of her teaching that “every picture in Light on Yoga is a stage that should be practiced.” Here’s why: The quality of attention and care given to the initial and middle stages of a pose will affect the quality of the final pose no matter where you end up. Rushing through the stages to get to the final pose will only make you feel like rushing to get back out of it once you’re there. Having skipped over something important, it won’t feel quite right. Go step by step. Abide at the stage where you can challenge yourself with steadiness and lightness, not strain. This will be much easier on you than trying to push yourself into a stage you are not ready for.

  5. Trust Your Teacher

    Our tendency to want to stay in our comfort zone competes with our tendency to want to go further. How do we know where the balance should be? This knowing is developed and refined by the practice itself, but good guidance can make a world of difference (for seasoned practitioners as well as beginners).

    A skilled teacher can look at you and know – because they have experienced many times what you are doing at that moment – whether it’s time for you to go further or back up. They can bring in the right prop(s) at the right time to help you do the pose without struggle or strain. If you have established a relationship with a teacher you trust, rely on them to do their job. Trusting your teacher will help you feel safe and challenged with a calm disposition throughout, which facilitates the yogic state of inner quiet.

  6. Salute your Stiffness

    I was working in an advanced backbend recently when the thought occurred to me: I feel so stiff! I had to laugh, because looking at that pose from the outside it would appear that I’m a very flexible. It’s a matter of perspective. No matter how flexible you are, you’ll come to a point where your body will yield no further. This feeling registers as stiff.

    Whenever you come to this point, be glad. Salute your stiffness, for you know that now you’ve come to the point where onward progress is possible. Pause. Stay with it. Breathe. Reflect. See if the feeling of stiffness grows less intense after a moment and you are able to proceed further – “even a hair’s breadth” as Mr. Iyengar has said. (*Note: Hypermobility of the joints is a different matter, in which case muscular resistance should be created. This is a separate topic.)

  7. Stay Another Moment

    In that moment when you feel eager to come out of the pose, wait. Stay another moment. Examine yourself. What is making you want to come out? Is it really true that your body can’t stay any longer or go any further? Or is your mind giving up first? Observe. Not only will this develop sensitivity and self-awareness, the extra time you spend in the pose will build up your endurance, which will make it easier when you practice it in the future.

  8. Feel Weak to Get Strong

    Don’t shy away from the poses that make you feel “weak.” The sensation of weakness, like stiffness, is relative and based on a perspective that can change over time. Your weak places are those that are underutilized relative to other parts of your body. Cherish them. Build them up. Spend time working on them and you will feel your strength (and, therefore, your sense of ease in the pose) growing over time.

  9. Practice Pranayama

    “Pranayama is the hub round which the wheel of life revolves,” writes Mr. Iyengar in the Introduction to Light on Yoga. Pranayama (yoga breathing practice) regulates the flow of vital energy in the body that is generated by the practice of asanas; this in turn feeds back into the amount of energy you have to give your asana practice. Having more energy certainly makes it easier to practice asanas. But it’s more than that. The nuanced understanding you develop during your pranayama practice will carry over to your asana practice. As cellular intelligence rises, it becomes easier to practice asanas with feelings of grace and delight.

  10. Consider Your Studentship

    If you drop in to yoga here and there, the poses you find hard today won’t get any easier tomorrow. So ask yourself: Do I want instant gratification or lasting change? Am I going to attend sporadically and face the same struggles every time, or will I show up consistently and put in the effort that is required to see the kind of improvement I really want? Drop-in yoga culture is antithetical to progress. But if you come to the same class(es) every week and practice on your own when you can, even just 15-20 minutes at a time, you’ll notice that your challenging poses get easier and easier with time.

By now you may be thinking: Hey wait! Some of the things that make yoga easier actually involve working harder. Yes, it’s true. In that sense, yoga is just like anything that improves with practice: The more you do it, the easier it will get. Ultimately, it’s about building your capacity. With consistent, sincere effort over time, what once was difficult becomes easier or downright easy. How else would you know that it’s time to take on new challenges?

I wish you well.

Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.
— Sutra II.47, B.K.S. Iyengar’s translation.

Is it Easy?

“Is it easy?” he asked.

And there I was, caught between the truth and what the prospective student wanted to hear.

The King’s Road, Hawaii Island near pu’uhonua. (c) 2010 Kimberly Mackesy

The King’s Road, Hawaii Island near pu’uhonua. (c) 2010 Kimberly Mackesy

I reached for the most diplomatic answer I could find that was still honest.

“Iyengar Yoga is challenging, but there will always be something that you can do,” I said.

He seemed satisfied with that answer, and he stayed for class. When it came to a pose that he could not do, I gave him something that he could. Relatively speaking, it was easy. Rightly so for a first-timer.

But his question dogged me all week long. Mainly because my gut reaction was something closer to heck no dude, this isn’t easy for any of us.

Of course I couldn’t say that to the student coming to class for the first time. I had to encourage him. So I did. But the question got under my skin enough to write this post. There is a deeper truth to express and it is this: Yoga is a path of transformation, and transformation doesn’t come easy.

Sharp like a razor's edge, the sages say,

Is the path, difficult to traverse.

— Katha Upanishad 1.3.14, trans. Eknath Easwaran

Yoga transforms the health, strength, and mobility of your body – and that’s just for starters. Give it earnest effort over time and you can witness it transform your relationship to your thoughts and emotions, the way you relate to the wider world, and even your understanding of who you are deep down.

This requires considerable effort. Consistently. Continuously. Over a long period of time (Sutra I.14). There are obstacles and causes of distraction (13 of them) that require adherence to single-minded effort to overcome (Sutras I.30-32). All of this is bad news for anyone who’s looking for convenient and carefree.

The good news is that it’s worth it. Yoga is incredibly well suited to modern life. It reduces stress, anxiety, frustration and discontentment. The physical practice helps immeasurably with the demands placed on our bodies by our day-to-day work. Yoga helps us find feelings of peace, personal power, and contentment in a troubled world. And it feels amazing.

Yet in many ways, the path of Yoga conflicts with contemporary realities and prevailing cultural attitudes. Our lives are busy. There’s never enough time. We want peace, but it’s hard concentrate. We want results and we don’t want them to take long to appear. We want to harvest the rewards without all that arduous tilling of the soil. We want to drop in. We want easy.

In that case, might as well go for a walk, or a dance, or a bike ride (or, this being Hawaii, a dip in the ocean!). Those activities are fun and worthwhile. They are easy. Life is hard enough, you might say, and you would not be wrong.

But if you’ve come to Yoga specifically, chances are you’re looking for something more than an undemanding form of exercise. It behooves you to ask yourself what that is. Why do you come to Yoga? What do you hope to get out of it? (I’d love to hear you answers!) Maybe you’re looking for ways to quiet the busy mind, which requires earnest effort as it is not easy to do. Perhaps you want to expand your range of motion, which requires something quite different from remaining comfortably within it (namely, hard work). Same goes for strength and flexibility. Maybe you seek a feeling of connection with something greater, which requires letting your identity take a back seat so your quiet mind and your open heart can be receptive to firsthand experience of a spiritual solace that defies description.

All of these aims point you toward the path of transformation. You want to change. You want to improve, refine, build, create, or experience something different from the way your body or your mind habitually functions. And this brings us back to the fact that it requires something more of you.

Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.

— B.K.S. Iyengar

You can’t stay the same and change at the same time.

— Manouso Manos

Practice, in a nutshell, is the process of discovering your own capacity and then working to find your way beyond it. It’s mapping your strengths and your shortcomings faithfully and honestly, without beating yourself up about it, and then working sincerely to improve whatever it is that you find. It’s making those efforts again and again and again. That is how you transform. The results will be proportionate to what you put in.

Yoga is a disciplined subject - a casual attempt only gains casual results.

— B.K.S. Iyengar

If you persist you will find that Yoga, despite its difficulties, is delightful. Yes, it will challenge you to face up to your body’s problems, and that can be hard. Facing them gives you the strength, courage and optimism to face up to problems in your life as well. Yes, there are poses that will be hard for you. Practicing them will turn them into trusted friends that you reach for when you need to feel better. Yes, it’s hard to turn down the mind and tune into the subtle interplay of muscles, joints, tissues, organs, breath, etc. When you do it, though, you’ll become deeply friendly with all parts of yourself, and in the process you may even begin to love and appreciate yourself some more. I know I have. In that sense, Yoga is of immeasurable value.

At the end of the day, each person has their own, valid, choice to make about what path to take. I support you in taking the path that will bring you to wherever you want to go. Should you choose to walk along the path of Yoga, easy does not even begin to describe it. Rewarding, challenging, ever-changing, always new, and immensely gratifying are some of the things that come to mind from my perspective. I invite you to find your own. I wish you well on the journey, and I leave you with this bit of encouragement from ancient times:

On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear.

— Bhagavad Gita 2.40, trans. Eknath Easwaran.

Living the Fourfold Remedy

Cultivating Friendliness, Compassion, Joy and Indifference for a Favorable Disposition

Pleasure and pain. Vice and virtue. Joy and sorrow. Ups and downs. Wins and losses. Peak experiences, depressions, and all that mundane in between...Whether you call them cycles, swings of the pendulum, or the turnings of the wheel of Fortune, life a continuum of these movements. These fluctuations can be hard to handle. Fortune-ately (haha) Yoga offers us a methodology for remaining calm and collected throughout. The key is the "Maitri Sutra" or the Fourfold Remedy:  

Maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah citta prasadanam. 

Through the cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.
— Yoga Sutras of Patañjali number I.33, Mr. Iyengar's translation

Friendliness towards one and all, compassion towards those who are suffering, joy for those who are doing well...these first three seem like an intuitive recipe for human happiness. They are also easier to grasp on an intellectual level than indifference, at least for the Western mind. Indifference sounds a bit cold, emotionally remote, or maybe even detached and cut off from the friendliness, compassion and joy. But is it?

Indifference is non-attachment, which is not to be confused with un-caring. It's the practice of not letting anyone else's words or actions disturb your internal state – no matter whether those actions would excite your disapproval or your praise. We typically react to the actions and words of others with some degree of agreement, disagreement, envy, disgust, and so on. In other words, we’re not neutral. We may refrain from expressing the full extent of our reactions, but inside our minds we are not neutral. Indifference is the art of maintaining neutrality.

This neutrality can (and should) be applied when you look at yourself, too. It means looking at your current life events and circumstances with the same lens. It’s asking yourself: Can I allow my life to be exactly as it is right now, without getting emotionally caught up in the drama of the ways I'd like it to be different?

Indifference applies to the inner world just as much as the outer. It’s being attentive to your own words and actions while remaining indifferent/unattached to what you find. This requires judging yourself neither too leniently nor too harshly under the light of your own truth. In other words, be aware, be forgiving, be willing to try again and do better next time, and don't give up. Never give up. (Strangely enough, indifference or non-attachment gives enough space to enact change rather than clinging to old ideas and habits.)

In those moments when these answers are YES – with respect to others, oneself, and one's own life – peacefulness ensues.

By cultivating this state of consciousness, all deviations and differences in thought waves are favorably disposed, enabling one to move towards the spiritual path.
— Mr. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sutras p. 89

When I think about this sutra, I ask myself:  Have I been friendly with those whom I've come into contact with today? Have I expressed compassion, preferably in the form of some kind of action to help? Am I genuinely happy for the people who are doing well? And finally, can I accept them without wanting them to change? Finally, can I allow the same of myself? Can I just let myself be who I am, however I am, right in this moment? If something about me is troublesome, what should I do about it, what am I going to do about it, and can I be content with who I am right now in spite of the faults I find?

I don't know about you, but habit and personality lead me to be rather hard on myself. I tend to focus on the flaws nestled among the virtues. When face to face with my shortcomings and the pain of acknowledging them, indifference can be hard to come by. Some of the things I find helpful are deep surrender, humility, forgiveness, and gratitude for each insight (even the challenging ones).

When I rest in the field of accepting what IS – beyond the movements of virtue and vice, pleasure and pain, etc. – I find myself a little further along on the road to a state of mind that feels "favorably disposed, serene and benevolent." The optimist in me can't help but think that if everyone took conscious steps to cultivate such a disposition, the world would would far less rife with conflict. In that sense, the yogi's inner work is not for his or her betterment alone.

May we all, through the cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference, uplift one another continuously. Together we rise.  

Testing the Waters: Be Bold, Be Cautious

(c) 2010 Kimberly Mackesy

(c) 2010 Kimberly Mackesy

Author's Note:  I wrote this several months ago, before the volcanic eruption cut off access to the place I describe. Many of you would have recognized Pohoiki by its description alone. There is now a new black sand beach where these surfers once were.

Every chance I get, I head down to a little piece of paradise where I can play hard in the ocean. It starts off with a gentle slope in warm water where hot springs percolate into the bay. As I go deeper, the water gradually becomes colder and swifter. When I'm all the way out, it’s among rolling waves, surfers, and an undertow that could easily sweep me out to sea.

I come here to feel the ocean's power and, by reflection, my own. "Be bold, be cautious," writes Guruji Iyengar; to swim here requires both. It reminds me a lot of my yoga practice, actually. This is a place where overhead waves can pick you up and set you down a car's length away from where you were before, and you'd better be sure it isn't on the rocks. Vigilance is required. At the same time, it's not a place to be scared. If I let myself stay scared I'd never make it past the shallows where the kids play.

So there's a balance, then, between boldness and caution. Usually we tend more toward one or the other; here, as in an asana practice, is an opportunity to balance them out, moment by moment. "Yogah karmasu kaushalam" says the Bhagavad Gita (II.50): Yoga is skillfulness in action. 

The skillful action of swimming in this place (the yoga of ocean swimming, I suppose) means staying alert at all times, attentive to the subtle and not-so-subtle shifts that go on. It's keeping an eye on the tropical fish and turtles without turning my back on the waves. It's gauging depth, distance from the rocks, wave force and rhythm, position of the surfers, and most of all my own capacity vs. current conditions. I have to weigh the strength of the undertow with the strength of my body as it begins to tire. I have to decide when to turn around, making sure that it's after I've gotten the vigorous movement that I crave but before I lose my ability to get safely back to shore.

The art of taking your body to the outer limits of what it can do requires sharp, unflagging attention. There's an internal measuring and balancing, a mixing of bold action with caution and steadiness. This is a skill that develops over a long time with alert, devoted practice (Patanjali Yoga Sutra I.14). Whether practicing yoga with intense exertion or swimming in rough waters, unflagging presence of mind is both demanded and developed. It's good to do this from time to time, just as it's also good to float down a lazy river or steep in the stillness of a quiet lake. (Or a hot tub. I'd love a hot tub right about now.)

May your practice take you from the safe shallows to exciting and adventurous depths, and safely back, again and again. Just like the waves.

Act. Reflect. Refine. Repeat.

What’s it like to practice yoga the Iyengar way? What’s really going on inside?

What makes Iyengar Yoga different? This is the question I get asked the most often, and it can be answered in many ways. Usually I (and other CIYTs) start by explaining some of the attributes for which Iyengar Yoga is widely known: precision, alignment, attention to detail, use of props, sequencing, timings, and so on.

Instead of all that, right now I’m going to attempt to describe the chain of events that actually goes on while practicing: the Iyengar Yoga process, if you will.

(c) 2018 Kimberly Mackesy

(c) 2018 Kimberly Mackesy

Act. Reflect. Refine. Repeat.

Act. Move the body. Get into the pose with attention to the "how." Once you're in the pose, movements end but actions continue. What are the actions of the pose? Do the actions of the pose. See if you can bring those actions into coordination and harmony with one another.

Reflect. This is the art of Being in the pose. Prashant Iyengar likes to remind us that most of the time we go about life – and even our yoga practice – as "human doings" who are always doing, doing, doing. Prashant asks us to stop being human doings and start being human beings! That is what we do at this stage: Watch. Observe. Examine. Sense. Listen. Learn. Feel. This is svadhyaya, the art of self-study and self-reflection. This right here is how, over a long period of time, instructions become knowledge and knowledge becomes wisdom.

Refine. Adjust yourself based on your ever-changing understanding. Re-extend. Re-do. Re-grip. Breathe. Go further inward. Invigorate those areas which are dull or have slackened (this includes your mind, by the way). Reinvigorate your attention. Surrender further and further the places that are unduly gripped. Counteract both tendencies toward underaction and overaction. Strive for a state of balanced action. This moves your pose ever closer to the state of "effortless effort." This is the moment when you may catch a glimpse of the infinite being within (Sutra II.47). But don't stop there. Insist upon your own sharp attention and commitment to continue to evolve even after you think you've "got it." Keep looking.

Repeat. Repeat the process of Act, Reflect, Refine, Repeat for as long as you are in the pose. Teachers repeat instructions until they see that the students' bodies "catch" what is being taught. Students repeat the poses a second time (or a third, or ...). The key actions may be repeated in a different pose (i.e. how does what we learned in that last pose apply to what I am doing now?). The same pose may also be repeated later on in the practice to trace the changes (what has changed and why? How is it different now, and what caused it to be?) All of this is thoughtfully designed to progressively increase the intelligence of each and every cell in the body. At all times you are attentive to what came before, what brought you to where you are now, and what's the next step as you move on. This is intelligent sequencing, one of the hallmarks of Iyengar Yoga.

Repeat, and repeat, and repeat this Iyengar Yoga Process! Act, Reflect, Refine, Repeat. Repeat it for a long time, uninterruptedly, and with feeling! (Sutra I.14)

When the effort is continued in accordance with yogic principles consistently and for a long time, with earnestness, attention, application and devotion, the yogic foundation is firmly established.
— B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Eventually, a seasoned practitioner can point to this process and say – in truthfulness – that it's not exactly like that. Fair point. The steps meld. Grahitr grahana grahesu:  The yogi realizes that the knower, the instrument of knowing, and the known are one (Sutra I.41). So do the actions, reflections, and refinements blend in the eternal moment of the now. The process becomes not so much sequential as singular. When you feel it, there is a timeless quality to it. That's when you know you're getting somewhere with this thing called yoga. Your satisfaction at this point is well deserved. AND...the Sutras say to beware of the pitfall of spiritual complacency. When you feel happy that you have achieved something, that is the time to redouble your efforts.

So...Repeat! We do it all again tomorrow...except that we don't. Just as the old saying goes that you can't step in the same river twice, so it is true that you can't do the same Iyengar Yoga practice twice (personally, I am very glad of this). Not even if it's the exact same poses, held for the same length of time, and in the same order. For something has changed between then and now, and that something is YOU. So trace the changes, celebrate the progress when it happens, press on when you hit the setbacks, and just keep showing up to Act, Reflect, Refine and Repeat. May your Iyengar Yoga process bring you fulfillment and joy.

P.S. This post was written with deep gratitude for Mr. Manouso Manos, whose teachings are interspersed throughout. If you have found any illumination here, the credit is due to my senior teacher of 15 years and counting.

Be Like Turtle. Go Inward.

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Once upon a time, the turtle Kurma (an avatar of Vishnu) held up the cosmos on his back. Sometimes it feels like we carry the weight of the world on our backs. Even so, can we remain undisturbed in the tranquility of the inner abode? Can we learn and discover and draw ever closer to the deepest depths of the self inside? That is the theme of  "Finding Home Within," our upcoming workshop series with Christie Hall, CIYT, c-IAYT coming up on June 13, 15 and 16. All proceeds will be donated to Pu'uhonua o Puna. The workshop is free to evacuees, and all students are welcome (beginners OK). We hope that you will join us. Please call or email to reserve your spot.

Change is creation and destruction in the same moment. And life is change.

Sometimes you light the fire of transformation, and sometimes it lights you. Either way, that is how transformation takes place.

When the eruptions in Leilani Estates began, I grew quiet. This was not on purpose. Few insights came, and most of them died out in the notebook. Words were inadequate to describe what was going on. It’s been nearly a month of feeling the earthquakes, hearing distant blasts like cannon fire, watching red clouds light the sky at night. I've felt the heat.

Copyright 2013 Kimberly Mackesy

Copyright 2013 Kimberly Mackesy

As the ground shook and cracked open, I let my home (and myself) be a still point. What do you do, what do you say when people are in the process of losing everything? Stress and worry and loss hang in the air like heavy clouds. I ask, I listen, I offer assistance. I've housed friends and their possessions. Mostly, I lie low. I give space, just like I give space to those volcanic clouds. 

Finally, today words emerge like a pahoehoe flow, slow and steady.

Sometimes you light the fire of transformation, and sometimes it lights you. Either way, that is how transformation takes place. Change is creation and destruction in the same moment, and life is change.

It’s hard, so so hard sometimes, to weather change – especially when it’s not by choice. My heart goes out to those who are having this major life change thrust upon them right now. Their lives are being put through the fire of transformation. Letting go is especially painful if you were comfortable where you were, if you didn't see it coming, if you had no choice. In that case, it just plain sucks for a while. There is a period – the end of which is unknowable while you are in it – of absence and of grief. The saving grace is the open space that absence creates. What’s going to take its place? The new life. The shift in perspective. The new understanding.

As homes and land are lost, new land forms. As the course of people’s lives is abruptly interrupted, new directions emerge. Locals say that Pele's fire is a purification not just of the land but of our hearts.

I think of yoga itself. The process, not the result. 

"You can’t change and stay the same at the same time," says senior teacher Manouso Manos. Of course, he is right. Tapas, the holy fire of disciplined effort, burns away physical and mental impurities. What’s left is the radiant truth underneath. But first you have to burn away whatever is obscuring it.

I think of the phoenix. Some say the phoenix's fire is lit by God; others say it self-immolates. I think it’s both. I got a phoenix tattoo in 2005 to memorialize this very thing: the old life ends so that the new life can begin. Homes. Cities. Jobs. Open-ended travels…and their closure. Relationships. Some of these changes were of my own making, others not. Ay, there's the rub.

When I moved to Hawaii, I let go of a lot. Routines and habits, my communities, a beautiful apartment in the heart of the city (with the best neighbors ever), proximity to my teachers and their guidance, the vast majority of my possessions. So many things were let go in order to step into the flow of change.  I told myself again and again:

"If you want your life to change, you have to allow yourself to change."

and

"If you want yourself to change, you have to allow your life to change."

(At the time, I thought I had come up with these mantras myself.  I later realized that it was Manouso who teaches that "you can't stay the same and change at the same time." Thank you, Manouso. It seems I have learned something.)

Copyright 2010 Kimberly Mackesy

Copyright 2010 Kimberly Mackesy

Since the move and throughout this major life change, bittersweetness and excitement have merged in the singular intensity of new growth. Transformation took, is taking, will continue to take place. Any strength and equanimity I feel, I credit to the yoga itself. 

When I think of the destruction and loss now taking place in Puna, it helps me to look to the past and think of what was gained. Black sand beaches are made when a large lava flow hits the ocean. Kehena, the beloved black sand beach of Lower Puna, was formed in the 1955 flow. In geological time, that’s the blink of an eye. Look closely at the helicopter videos and you may even see new black sand beaches forming. The house I live in sits atop a blob of lava that (so I’ve been told) flowed during an eruption in the 1850s.

If you are losing something now, rest assured you will gain something too. You may not know what or when, but it’s coming. From the death of the old, new life will grow. 

P.S. Right as I finished that last sentence, my phone went off. It was a text from my dad: “Official start to the Lake County Fire Season. Hardester’s Middletown [the town grocery store] goes up in smoke.”

 

copyright 2013 kimberly mackesy

copyright 2013 kimberly mackesy

Q&A with Steve Salkin-Krucker

Author’s Note: This month Steve begins teaching a weekly All Levels class here at Iyengar Yoga Hawaii (hooray!). A resident of East Hawaii for the past decade, Steve is a long-time practitioner of Iyengar Yoga and a respected teacher in the greater Hilo yoga community. I recently sat down with Steve to find out more about his thoughts on teaching and practice, and to share those thoughts with you. Here is our conversation.

KZM:  Let’s start with one question that is really two:  What brought you to Iyengar Yoga, and what made you stay with it?

SSK:  I was always super, super inflexible when I was younger. I couldn’t even sit with crossed legs with the rest of the class when I was in the 4th grade! Later, my back developed a problem from playing football, so I started looking for relief. When I found yoga, it wasn’t Iyengar Yoga right from the beginning, but it was Iyengar Yoga that first “clicked” in my mind and made sense.

What kept me coming back? I had really strong teachers, Eddy Marks and Mary Obendorfer. They were the best that I could have had, for me. Mary was my main teacher. I remember from that very first Iyengar Yoga class. I walked in, and when I walked out I felt two inches taller! I felt like I was literally walking on a cloud. Mary’s knowledge and love of yoga, and her teaching style, helped me stay with it. That and the fact that Iyengar Yoga was the first kind of yoga that “clicked” for me.

KZM:  How would you describe the impact that Iyengar Yoga has on your day to day life?

SSK:  Even though I don’t surf like I did when I was 30 years old, I’m a better surfer now than I was then. Beyond surfing…anything…working in the yard, moving a heavy piece of furniture…I can do it all in a more intelligent way now.

KZM:  Why is that kind of intelligence important?

It’s important because of my previous injuries. I’ve learned to live in my own body with the injuries that I have had and still function and be comfortable when I move.

KZM:  What would you say to someone who wants health, and is perhaps curious about Iyengar Yoga but hesitant to come in and try it?

SSK:  I’d quote B.K.S. Iyengar who said that “yoga has to be experienced.” There are no excuses. Come and do it. Don’t give it a try. Just come and do it.

KZM:  That is so Yoda!

SSK:  Sure. I mean as far as excuses go, I’ve heard them all – and I’ve probably said them all at some point! Take “I’m not flexible.” Well I’m not flexible, either. That’s why I have to do yoga!

KZM:  Is there anything else you would like to tell your students and prospective students?

SSK:  Because of my own circumstances, i.e. injuries etc., nothing has come easy for me personally in yoga. So when you see me up in front of the class and I look like I can do it, that was years and years’ worth of effort. And because I’ve had to work at everything and make the most of my body, I think it’s made me become a better teacher. Especially in the last few years, I’ve learned that practicing yoga is not about getting into some posture. It’s the process of working towards it. That’s the yoga. It doesn’t matter what your body can or can’t do when you are in a class with a trained Iyengar Yoga teacher. We can always give you something that you can do.

Thanks to Steve for humoring my request for a Q&A! And thank you to you, the reader. Steve’s All Levels class at Iyengar Yoga Hawaii is held on Wednesdays from 5:30-7:00 p.m. Mahalo and be well!